x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Moyes' Liverpool test could confirm contendership to Ferguson's throne

The former Liverpool resident arrives at Anfield where his predecessor had a tough time improving the head-to-head record, writes Richard Jolly.

A Liverpool resident for 11 years, David Moyes is up against a team that riled his predecessor at Manchester United. Andrew Powell / Getty Images
A Liverpool resident for 11 years, David Moyes is up against a team that riled his predecessor at Manchester United. Andrew Powell / Getty Images

For many, a new job involves a new life. Prominent figures from their past become strangers. Their old neighbours are ignored as they opt for a change of scenery.

Not for David Moyes, however: all roads have led back to Merseyside for Manchester United's new manager.

The Scot began by raiding Everton for the majority of his coaching staff, in Steve Round, Jimmy Lumsden and Chris Woods, while also adding his captain at Goodison Park, Phil Neville, to his backroom team at Old Trafford.

He then attempted to re-sign midfielder Marouane Fellaini and left-back Leighton Baines, moves Everton rebuffed.

And now Moyes is back in the city where he spent 11 years, just across Stanley Park from Everton's historic home, at Anfield.

Despite their distinguished past, the modern-day Everton are defined by Liverpool. So Everton managers are judged by their fortunes against their nearest, if not dearest.

Moyes became the first since the 1930s to finish ahead of Liverpool in successive top-flight seasons, but the black mark on his record is that he never won at Anfield.

"They had bigger finances than we did but when it came to the game it was 11 versus 11, that's what people judged us on and that's why the record there is poor," he accepted. "We couldn't quite compete with them."

But in 45 games away at the clubs once known as one of "the big four", he never secured a victory. Moyes being Moyes, the chances are it will still irritate him that Sylvain Distin had a "winner" rather controversially chalked off in May, in his final game before he was appointed United manager.

Now he has the resources at his disposal; now poverty can not be an excuse.

While Sir Alex Ferguson once defined his biggest challenge as "knocking Liverpool right off their perch," for Moyes the task is to prove he is a worthy heir of the man who changed the balance of power in English football.

"I know I have to earn it," he said. "I know I have to go out there and everyone at Manchester United, that I'm the right successor."

Triumphing at Anfield would be the ideal start. The reality is that while Ferguson secured a comprehensive victory in the war, he actually lost some of the battles; indeed, at one stage, Gerard Houllier recorded five consecutive wins against the Scot.

And while Liverpool have lost each of their last five games at Old Trafford, Ferguson only won on one of his final six trips to Anfield.

Perhaps not since 1997, when they prevailed 3-1, have United truly dominated there; subsequent wins have tended to be scrappy or fortunate, aided by the occasional goalkeeping or defensive error or "Fergie Time" goal.

In the context of a 1,500-game, 38-trophy reign, that mattered not. A manager in his third league game may be held to a higher standard.

The burden of proof rests with Moyes: to prove he is not daunted by football's toughest task.

Much as Liverpool were the constant reference point when he was Everton manager, now Ferguson has taken their place. He is ever present in everyone's thoughts. The United fans' chant, to the tune of Slade's Cum On Feel The Noize, is: "Come on David Moyes, play like Fergie's boys."

The reality is that Moyes has to play more of "Fergie's boys" than he intended. United's summer of frustration in the transfer market has deprived him of the chance to stamp his mark on the side.

Had he signed the central midfielder he desires, whether Fellaini or another, one of Ferguson's favourites, Tom Cleverley, would presumably be on the bench. Instead he is likely to start. So, too, is the man who had the dubious honour of being the final footballer with whom Ferguson fell out.

Wayne Rooney was also United's highest scorer during his 26-year tenure. After delivering 197 goals for the elder Scot, a first for the younger manager would mark Rooney's return to the fold after his summer-long flirtation with Chelsea.

Obduracy and constancy were characteristics Moyes displayed in his 11 years at Everton; now, with his refusal to countenance selling Rooney, he has brought them to United. So, as he returns to a city he knows well, it is about Merseyside and the Merseysider.


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