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Ugly penalty shootout highlights Manchester United’s fragile mental state

Jan 22, 2014, 8:19 PM EDT

ManchesterUnited AP

After a Heimlich maneuver from Javier Hernandez brought Manchester United back from the dead, the Red Devils stepped up to the penalty spot five times at Old Trafford looking to spurn Sunderland.

They gacked four of them.

With David Moyes searching every corner of the Red universe for answers to a season of questions, he found nothing but black yet again.

The night had started with a feeling of new life, as rumors sparkled around Old Trafford that United were on the verge of rescuing Chelsea’s lost man Juan Mata.  But it ended with that same empty feeling that’s plagued the home supporters all season, and it was hard to watch.

Now it’s clear that sunken feeling has spread to the dressing room as well.

One of the most embarrassing penalty shootout showings in recent memory showed the public how horribly fragile the mental state of a once-powerful squad has become.  All you had to do was watch the penalties attempted by Moyes’ men.

Danny Welbeck missed the top corner horribly, flying over.  Phil Jones looked very much like a defender, not testing Vito Mannone. Rafael, another defender, meekly touched well within range of the Sunderland stopper.  Even the wonderkid Adnan Januzaj, who has looked like United’s lone bright spot the last few weeks, couldn’t hit confidently enough to pass the keeper.

Plenty of excuses have flown around the last few months for why Moyes has struggled in his first year at Old Trafford, but tonight’s penalty debacle lies squarely with the gaffer.

With nobody on the team on a good run of form aside maybe the Belgian teenager, Moyes decided to pick a pair of defenders to take spot-kicks, while leaving out striker Hernandez and winger Antonio Valencia.

Mind-boggling.

Even if reports that Chicharito injured himself celebrating his last-ditch goal are true, it doesn’t excuse the selection, for which there were a myriad of better combinations.

And let’s not forget, one of the most mentally fragile players on the squad – goalkeeper David De Gea – flubbed the easiest of collections to give Sunderland extra-time hope to begin with

According to WhoScored, its the Spaniard’s first goalkeeping error leading to a score since 2012, a year when rumors of his exit from Old Trafford flew as many claimed his young mind was unable to handle the rigors of the Premier League.

With a team already scratching and clawing for any kind of positive results, Moyes may have broken his players’ mental state beyond repair.  It’s possible they seal the deal with Juan Mata, which could certainly provide an injection of creativity they so desperately require.

But at this point, Moyes no longer has a shot at the title, and he must tread carefully or the Scotsman risks falling out of European football entirely.

The red on the world-famous Old Trafford home kit has long since lost its fear factor.  Instead, the club is bleeding red, and Moyes must find a way to cauterize the wound now.

Here’s a hint for you David, free of charge: it’s not Phil Jones from the penalty spot.

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