Mark Holmes says Manchester United's players must take a share of the blame for their poor start, but questions David Moyes' defensive demands.
Moyes' defensive demands not helping
One of the main questions asked of David Moyes' ability to manage Manchester United was whether his approach was attacking enough to meet the club's long-standing values.
As it happens, there have been as many defensive problems as there have been offensive ones (albeit United have not scored from open play in the Premier League since the opening day) during the early part of Moyes' reign, but his use (or rather lack of) of Shinji Kagawa goes some way to explaining what the Scot expects of his players.
Sir Alex Ferguson also did not use Kagawa a great deal, of course, but he always found a way to allow his most creative players plenty of freedom to play on instinct. It is a common privilege for top players at top clubs - Lionel Messi, to use the most extreme example, will not be expected to do too much in the way of defensive work, nor is he required to remain in one specific position on the pitch.
Moyes, however, has never managed a team which was good enough to allow any player this privilege. At Everton, every player was given a specific role which was as crucial as any other to ensuring the team kept its shape and performed as a whole. Moyes' teams at Goodison Park were always greater than the sum of their parts.
Moyes is yet to recognise that United have enough good players to allow a player like Kagawa the freedom to roam across the pitch in search of the ball, to leave other players to do the defensive work and fill his space when he vacates it.
The below graphic highlights the lack of freedom Kagawa was allowed against West Brom on Saturday - Moyes is naive if he believes asking a player like the Japanese to stick so rigidly to the left flank will get the best out of him.
If Moyes is to prove a success at Old Trafford, he has to come to terms with the quality of player he is now managing and allow those players to express themselves. Otherwise he is facing a massive uphill battle to win the full backing of the squad and the stands.
United players must take share of blame
When Moyes was announced as United's new manager, there were those that felt his personality and the length of time he had stayed at Everton made him the perfect successor to Ferguson, while there were others that felt lack of experience at the top level made him too big a risk.
I fell into the latter camp, suggesting that United had thought more about the man than the manager when moving for Moyes. United fans railed against the suggestion, insisting he would provide stability, but my argument was that a manager had to deliver success in the short term to be able to provide stability in the long term - and few could say with any confidence that Moyes could deliver that short-term success. If United go two seasons without winning anything Moyes will likely be sacked, disproving the argument of him providing stability.
Moyes has done nothing in his first few months in the job to convince me he is the right man to inspire a team full of champions but, despite that and despite the mistakes he has made, it is the players that have to take the brunt of the blame for Saturday's embarrassing home defeat to the Baggies.
Moyes made some decisions that can certainly be questioned in retrospect - starting Rio Ferdinand over Nemanja Vidic, playing Phil Jones at right-back, hauling off Kagawa at half-time to name but three - but the fact remains that United won the Premier League last season and have the quality to play far, far better than they did against Albion and in most other games under Moyes.
There is a theory - and it is just a theory - that a dressing room full of players that have won numerous titles does not respect Moyes in quite the same way that they respected Ferguson. When the new manager gives a player an instruction, that is perhaps different to anything given to them by Ferguson, do they follow the instruction to the letter without a second thought or do they question in their head the decisions being made?
After all, this group of players won the league under Ferguson, and the only thing that changed over the summer was the manager. It's certainly not inconceivable that those players privately blame Moyes for the poor start to the season.
It's going to take some time before Moyes commands the same respect in the dressing room that Ferguson did, and that is part of the reason why the appointment was such a risk in the first place.
It is also, however, a sad indictment, of the mentality of modern-day players. Numerous Chelsea managers failed to get the full backing of the squad, Paolo Di Canio was recently forced out of his job by the Sunderland players, and now suddenly the performance levels of the United players have dropped to an unprecedented low, possibly because they are not fully won over by the man in charge.
Moyes will need broad shoulders to deal with the amount of criticism that will come his way until results reach an acceptable level - much of it justified, no doubt - but United's players certainly shouldn't be allowed to escape scot-free if they continue to perform as badly as they have done in these last two games.
Just an observation
'It has been 1,310 days since the precocious Welshman Aaron Ramsey was left on the brink of unconsciousness after a tackle from Stoke City's Ryan Shawcross left him nursing multiple fractures to his tibia and fibula.'
That is the introduction to a report of Arsenal's weekend win at Swansea in one of Monday's newspapers - and a well-respected one at that.
Players that have suffered broken legs since Ramsey: Hatem Ben Arfa (Newcastle), Marc Wilson (Stoke), Bacary Sagna x 2 (Arsenal), Steven Reid (West Brom), Antonio Valencia (Manchester United), Neil Taylor (Swansea), Stuart Holden (Bolton), Lee Chung Yong (Bolton), Bobby Zamora (QPR), Ben Watson (Wigan), Jamie Mackie (then QPR, now Nottingham Forest), Stephen Hunt (then Wolves, now wwithout a club), Adlene Guedioura (then Wolves, now Crystal Palace).
Mentions of those players' recovery from injuries this season: Four*
Mentions of Ramsey's recovery from injury: 947*
Just an observation, that's all.
*Figures an estimation