David Moyes’ transitional Manchester United team may only have narrowly lost on penalties in last night’s League Cup Semi-Final, but the defeat – for a club of United’s stature and after the turmoil Moyes has endured so far – felt just as embarrassing as West Ham’s 9-0 capitulation to Manchester City over two legs. This begs the question: who has had the worst season so far, Moyes or Allardyce?
Fans, pundits and whatever-Michael-Owen-is can debate that last query, but it’s clear what we have learnt from the past two legs of League Cup: that cup runs matter n be a catalyst for an improved season elsewhere.
Allardyce famously shrugged off any talk of his sacking after securing a 2-0 win away against Cardiff a week-and-a-half ago. Of course, this victory was after a 5-0 loss against Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup and a 6-0 drubbing by Manchester City in the League Cup, and the Cardiff triumph has now quickly been followed by two home defeats, 3-1 and 3-0.
Allardyce chose a weakened side for Forest and starting elevens for both legs against City that showed little fight or a will to win, in drastic contrast to the heroics of the Sunderland side over its two legs against the other Manchester leg. Allardyce claims he was far more concerned with West Ham’s relegation battle, but Sunderland are also in the relegation dog-fight and have been spurred by their Cup performances.
Since Sunderland beat Chelsea in the quarter finals back on 17 December they have lost only once in nine games, in which they also became the only team to beat Everton at Goodison Park in the league in the whole of 2013. West Ham failed to utilise any of the positives from their victory against Spurs in the quarter finals; in fact, West Ham have never won consecutive Premier League games under Allardyce in the last two seasons.
West Ham’s lack of confidence is mirrored in the United team. One can’t help but feel a despondency in the United team, epitomised by poor penalties from Danny Welbeck and Phil Jones. While United responded well to their League Cup quarter final victory against Stoke, the loss against Swansea at home in the FA Cup third round was a big one. During Ferguson’s 26-year tenure, United only once went out of the cup in the third round, and the defeat against Swansea was their fourth loss in six games at Old Trafford.
United staying in the FA Cup, which they have not won since 2004, might have buoyed the team along. Instead, after the defeat against Sunderland last night, they have only won once in 2014 out of six games.
Say what you will about the decline in importance of the FA and League Cups, but last night showed that the drama will never die and that a cup run can be a catalyst for change and hope. Just ask the 9,000 Mackems there.