Manchester United's Robin van Persie questioned the way the team is being set up after the desperate 2-0 defeat at Olympiakos on Tuesday night, declaring that a duplication of roles is causing his team-mates to occupy his spaces on the field.
Van Persie was isolated against the Greek champions and also spurned a fine opportunity six minutes from time. But he became the second United player, after Rio Ferdinand, to question publicly an aspect of the David Moyes set up in his claim that other players are impinging on his territory.
“My fellow players are sometimes occupying the spaces I want to play in,” he told the Dutch broadcaster NOS, when asked whether he was being asked to drop deep to collect the ball. “And unfortunately, they are often playing in my zones. I think that's a shame. And when I see that, it makes it difficult for me to come to those spaces as well. So that forces me to adjust my runs, based on the position of my fellow players.”
Moyes admitted that he “didn't see that level of performance coming” after the defeat in the round of 16 first leg game. He said he would “take responsibility” for a display in which United “never really got to grips with things. ” The manager said: “To a man, you could hardly pick anybody out. We just didn't perform. I take responsibility. It is my team and I will always front it up. We didn't play well. We have to play better. We can do and the one good thing is that there is still a second game to come.”
Former United captain Roy Keane declared that the club needed six or seven players to rebuild and replace players “who just don't have the quality” after the defeat which leaves United needing to overcome a 2-0 first leg deficit successfully for the first time since Ron Atkinson's team prevailed against Barcelona in 1984.
“There is a lack of confidence and there are some players who just don't have the quality,” Keane said on ITV. “We've been brainwashed that the Premier League is the best in the world. Nonsense. It's the best brand in the world but they have fallen behind, United more than most. They need six or seven players to rebuild the club. Privately David Moyes will be shocked at the quality he is working with.”
Moyes had admitted that falling behind in games is a problem for his team and United did so for the 16th time this season, 11 of which they have gone on to lose. The Greeks' two goals came in a 17-minute period either side of the break, with Arsenal loanee Joel Campbell adding to Alejandro Dominguez' opener.
Moyes said of Keane's comments: “I think there is undoubtedly talent at Manchester United but tonight we didn't show it. Me and the team we didn't show it together. It is something we will have to do. We will put it right. We are determined to put it right and will have opportunities to do that in the coming weeks.”
The manager said the performance was United's worst in Europe under him. “We came into the game in good form and a good mind set but it just didn't show. I am just surprised. But I have to say I still don't think we were necessarily two goals worse off. But we didn't offer enough to create a goal.”
Of the fact that Adnan Januzaj was not even on the United bench, Moyes said: “I decided last week I would play Tom Cleverley and it was a time to bring in and out at the right moments so I chose not to use him.”
Van Persie's criticism follows Ferdinand questioning in December Moyes' decision to name the team at the last minute. “You spend a lot of nervous energy thinking: 'Am I playing' or 'Am I not playing?' and you're just going round in circles in your head and turning into a madman,” he said.