There are nearly infinite storylines going into the Champions League group stage that can be written about, such as how will the Spanish giants rebound after being embarrassed in the semifinals last year, will German teams continue to rise in stature, and will English teams rebound after a poor showing last year? Even including individual storylines, there are too many to count, but I want to focus on one. David Moyes. Yes, his story has been hammered in to death with the start of the league season, and especially after the transfer flops. But he has a chance to regain goodwill with his first foray into the Champions League group stage, but how will he deal with an entirely new challenge while having the pressure of managing Manchester United on his shoulders?
Managing in Europe is an entirely different task than managing domestically, and this is news to no one. But it might be to Moyes, whose only entries into European competitions were in the UEFA Cup/Europa League, where his teams didn't put in the most stellar performances, notwithstanding his Champions League knockout against Villarreal in 2005 before the group stage. In those trips to and from the continent, Moyes had an interesting time dealing with foreign tactics, squad rotation, which eventually led to results that could be described as anywhere from "decent" to "meh". In order to ascertain as to what Moyes might do with this new challenge of the Champions League, we first must see what he did when he last managed a team competing in Europe.
The last season David Moyes took an Everton team to Europe was 2009-10, when Everton made it to the Europa League Round of 32, only to be knocked out by Sporting Lisbon. Everton finished 8th that year while juggling this competition and domestic ones, a fall from 5th the year prior, which included them sitting 2 points above the relegation zone at Christmas. How did Moyes rotate his squad? Well he was forced to for he was dealing with a major injury crisis, including playing players like Seamus Coleman and Jose Baxter (both 17) in a 5-0 drubbing at the hands of Benfica in Lisbon. Everton tried as much as they could to play a full strength squad on both fronts, but their injury crisis prevented them from fully doing so, as at one point they were dealing with 11 players injured, and had nowhere near the depth of squad that Moyes will have at his disposal today.
How did he deal tactically? Based on results, it seems pretty decently, although he faced AEK Athens and BATE Borisov 4 years ago, and will face Bayer Leverkusen, Shaktar Donetsk, and Real Sociedad this year. Once again, as it seems to be the trend, Moyes would be more hesitant to go for it against the bigger clubs like Benfica and Sporting, injury handicap aside, and this saw the Toffees score only 2 goals against the Lisbon giants while conceding 11. Of course squad depth played a role in these defeats, and having to play youth players and first teamers out of position while dealing with a major injury crisis is no easy task. So overall in this campaign, Moyes dealt quite admirably with the task of juggling 4 competitions while dealing with seemingly daily injuries, although Everton's league form improved drastically once all the other competitions were off their plate. Analysis of Moyes' other forays into the UEFA Cup will provide similar conclusions, aside from not having to deal with quite the injury crises then.
So that was Moyes then, so how about now? Well, he has far more squad depth and experience to play with now as gaffer at Manchester United, but how will he rotate the squad when he has challenges in the league to deal with as well? Will we see players like Chris Smalling, Shinji Kagawa, Chicharito, and maybe more of Moyes' prized Marouane Fellaini? Despite fixture congestion being nothing new for most of the squad, it certainly might be for Moyes, whose team is expected to win trophies and head the table at the same time, despite whether you find Manchester United's slate of opening fixtures fair or not. Moyes' insistence that he is not nervous despite rumblings of discontent among the Old Trafford faithful and his newness to the competition and the pressure might be reassuring on the level of slightly relaxed pressure from the tabloids, but we'll not know anything until we see United tackle their slipping European home form, and the somewhat daunting travel facing them in the future. Moyes assures he knows about the competition from playing in it and watching it, but managing in it is a whole different ballgame, especially pre Manchester derby approaching just after the first Bayer fixture. It's a challenge Moyes is certainly excited about, but certainly green to.
The Red Devils league form has already suffered some. They have a cup competition tie next week against Liverpool. The discontent isn't loud, but the whispers are growing to a low whine, while not annoying yet, they could be disruptive, especially if form continues to suffer. All the advice from Sir Bobby Charlton and Sir Alex is nice, but it won't matter if results don't come in, especially for a supporters base hungry for another European cup after the disappointments of the last 2 seasons. David Moyes has talked the part of being a Manchester United boss, but he hasn't quite walked the walk yet.
Maybe Champions League success will prove that he can, or the lack of it will just make the low whine a louder din.