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Three points, few answers for Manchester United in Champions League

Oct 23, 2013, 6:58 PM EDT

Manchester United v Real Sociedad de Futbol - UEFA Champions League Getty Images

Coming into today’s match, the performances was as important as the result. It’s a sentiment David Moyes echoed in his pre-match news conference, explaining his team had trained well in the days leading up to Manchester United’s Champions League meeting with Real Sociedad. The end goal: Translate their best moments into actual goals, hopefully leaving themselves beyond the reach of the type of one-off moments that saw them drop points this weekend to Southampton.

Despite Wednesday’s 1-0 win over Sociedad, United failed to meet that standard. Iñigo Martínez’s second minute own goal ended up deciding the match, even if close calls from Antonio Valencia and Phil Jones almost gave United insurance. Still, as the second half went on and Real Sociedad continued to find room to build through the midfield, this game had the feeling of what’s become a typical Manchester United performance. Had Sociedad played better, we would have seen a repeat of this weekend’s result.

That’s not to say there weren’t positives. Wayne Rooney, except for a poor finish in the second half, was fabulous. It’s a pleasure to see him reclaim this status. Phil Jones and Jonny Evans helped keep a clean sheet, and Antonio Valencia was his typical (if limited) self down the right flank. Nobody ever said Manchester United were a bad team, hence their lead in their Champions League group (up two points on Bayer Leverkusen).

But for Moyes, there seem to be four big problems. First, he’s conceded the team need to be better, thus confirming the problem. Second, looking at the squad he’s inherited, it’s impossible to disagree. United’s is a very talented squad. Third, even if you wanted to nit-pick as to how talented they are, last year’s league title provides some evidence of their quality. But finally,  and perhaps most damning, this team’s playing with the exact same approach Moyes instilled at Everton. This is top-table talent performing with mid-table mentality.

The one caveat when looking at today’s performance is the starting XI. There was no Robin van Persie. Marouane Fellaini was out. Adnan Januzaj was given the day off, and neither Nemanja Vidic nor Rio Ferdinand were in the middle of defense. This wasn’t unlike a team Alex Ferguson, implicitly dismissive of group stage challenges, would have chosen, with a close call result to match.

In that sense, it would be too hard on Moyes if we saw this as the extension of something bigger, though the bottom line remains the same. The United boss wanted a different kind of performance from his team, and he didn’t get. Whether that’s an extension of the manager’s mentality, the team still  failed to meet their goals. We saw progress in the win column but not the performance.

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