Replacing Sir Alex Ferguson was never going to be easy - but as Matt Allen writes, it became weekly torture for the Red Devils...
It promised to be the dawning of a new era: the departing managerial totem replaced by his personally-approved successor; Screaming Lord Fergie followed by David Moyes. Or 'The Chosen One’, as he was known until United chose to sack him. On paper, Moyes seemed a suitable choice. Solid, reliable, a hard taskmaster, he had punched above his weight at Everton. Could the trick be repeated at Old Trafford?
Not a chance. From the moment Moyes was photographed at his Carrington desk (complete with excruciating rigor-mortis grin which seemed to say “Please don't notice my fly is undone”), he looked a man desperately seeking a foothold on a precarious ladder. Players complained of a training regime that focus on fitness rather than technique, the team lost their attacking thrust, and results took a worrying nosedive.
As United's title-winning team turned into a squad of creaking, mentally fragile under-performers, Fortress Old Trafford's previously unshakeable foundations crukbled with shocking suddenness: top-four rivals Liverpool, Manchester City, Spurs and Everton all took maximum points at the Theatre Of Dreams. As did Newcastle, an otherwise underperforming West Brom, and drop-dodgers Sunderland. Even moribund Fulham managed a draw.
Fortunes elsewhere, meanwhile, cast a poor light on Moyes' appointment. Under his successor Roberto Martinez, Everton played with previously undiscovered verve, looking for long stretches like Champions League qualification hopes. Meanwhile, United fans watched as Liverpool and City helped themselves to three agonisingly easy points at Old Trafford as they battled it out for the title – a predicament, one would imagine, which United fans must have felt was like decide which foot to have cut off in a Saw-like torture scene.
Would they have taken this in August?
Not a chance. The champions have been reduced to rubble, not even qualifying for the Europa League. For all the unease over replacing Ferguson, relinquishing their title so easily would have been unthinkable as the pre-season drew to a close.
Would they have taken this in January?
No. Even as Moyes struggled to motivate some of his players, there was a sense, come New Year's Day, that the tide could be turned in 2014. Not 24 hours later, that notion had been crushed when an equally erratic Spurs won 2-1 at Old Trafford.
At least Wayne Rooney was giving it all (when fully fit). His instinctive turn and volley from the Upton Park halfway line is a strike that will be replayed in Goal of the Season showreels during the coming weeks.
Not just losing 3-0 at home to Manchester City, but admitting that the neighbours were the benchmark. "We have played a very good side, playing at the sort of level we are aspiring to," said Moyes. That would never have happened under Ferguson's watch.
Hero of the season
Adnan Januzaj. In a season when some of the trusted old guard looked to have played a season too many, and the big names appeared out of sorts, it was apt that a young player brimming with attacking gusto should most cheer United's fans. The future looks bright for this kid.
Villain of the season
Sir Alex Fergsuon. Controversial, but given his successor has been hung out to dry, it seems fair to question the man who actively installed him. "Why didn't you get Mourinho?" was a question being asked throughout the 2013/14 campaign.
The season in microcosm
The 2-2 draw against Fulham spoke volumes of United's regression this year. Having gone a goal down in the match's early exchanges at Old Trafford, United celebrated a brace of goals as if they had been Champions League final winners, rather than strikes against a team doomed to relegation. An injury time equaliser from Darren Bent merely added salt to the gaping, festering wound.
F. Mid-table mediocrity is not something United are accustomed to. Nor is losing so many games at home. Never has a report card “Must do better” been more appropriate.