It is hard to be sure of the protocol; whether to rubberneck at the car crash happening in Old Trafford’s heartland, or to look away, hoping that it’ll be alright. Certainly, the brutality of Manchester United’s defeat to Liverpool on Sunday does not bear another viewing, except perhaps for David Moyes and his coaching team. Whether the 50-year-old would learn anything new is moot. After all, the former Evertonian openly admits that comprehensive defeat to United’s major rivals was “hard to explain”.
Indeed, it is as much Moyes’ excuse-laden approach as United’s results that truly grates among supporters. Add performances that have been as soporific as the manager’s deeply underwhelming response and it is little wonder that terrace sentiment is rapidly moving against a manager just eight months into the job.
After all, there is genuine supporter desire for Moyes to proffer just a modicum of hope – that there is a clear plan for development of this team, and a real understanding of where the problem lies. With each defeat, however, comes greater certainty that Moyes has no plan, and in his own words, no explanation for the disintegration of United’s season.
Still, there is one – perhaps final – opportunity for Moyes to win back some doubters as United host Olympiakos at Old Trafford on Wednesday night. At stake is the Glazers business plan, which is predicated on the Reds reaching the Champions League quarter-final, and United’s pride.
Yet, while this was supposed to be a virtual bye – the easiest draw in the Round of 16 – United begin the match in such disarray there is little guarantee Moyes’ outfit will pull off the 3-0 victory required to progress.
“I think when you lose in the fashion we did, and to one of our biggest rivals, there’s always disappointment,” said Moyes on Tuesday.
“We know it’s a big week but as soon as it’s over, we concentrated on this game. We got the players in on Monday and told them the only thing that matters is this game.
“I see the players every day. I think they know they can play better. I have belief in the players and hopefully we can show it. I agree we haven’t seen it as often as we’d have liked but hopefully we can show it tomorrow. The most important thing right now is to get through into the next round of the competition.”
The team will retain vocal support at Old Trafford on Wednesday, although aggregate defeat to the Greeks followed by poor results against West Ham United and Manchester City might change that dynamic. There was a sense that United fans’ noisy end to Sunday’s match could take a rabble-rousing turn should the upcoming trio of fixtures go against the Reds. Or in other words, while the team can take enduring support for granted, Moyes cannot.
“When you win, you win together and when you lose, you lose together,” said defender Patrice Evra.
“It’s been a difficult season for everyone. We’re not used to losing games. We always win. Everybody wants to fight for this club, everyone loves this club.
“We know we had a bad game in the first leg. Even a three-year-old Manchester United fan will have been hurting from that performance. But in life you always have a second chance and we get that tomorrow tonight. I’m not God and telling you we will qualify tomorrow but I can promise you we will all fight and respect the shirt and make sure all the fans will be really proud of us after the game.
“I’m not selling a dream and saying we will definitely qualify. There are too many words right now. We just have to show on the pitch. That is most important.”
On the pitch Moyes is likely to be without Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling, while Juan Mata is cup tied having played for Chelsea earlier in the competition. The Spaniard’s absence could mean a rare outing for Japanese playmaker Shinji Kagawa, who Moyes said will “definitely be involved” against the Greek side.
“Shinji’s an important player for us. It’s been a difficult time for him – he’s not played as often as he’d have liked. He’s someone we really like and he’ll definitely be involved at some point tomorrow”
Meanwhile, Olympiakos arrive at Old Trafford in patchy recent form – they lost back-to-back matches prior to the weekend – but having clinched a 41st Greek title with five matches to spare. David Fuster scored the second in a 2-0 victory over Panthrakikos on Saturday that sealed the title following a foul on forward Joel Campbell.
It leaves coach Míchel González del Campo – Míchel – confident heading into the second leg, where the Greeks need only score once to leave United requiring four in normal time to progress
“My players aren’t scared of anything,” said Míchel.
“Maybe the manager is a bit more scared, but they’re not. We would like the game to go the same way as it did in the first leg but we know this will be a different Manchester United. There will definitely be more determination and urgency from them.
“The atmosphere is always fantastic at Old Trafford, it always lifts the team. It is always a pleasant experience to come here. We have played big clubs in big grounds all over Europe and we are not going to change our style. We are going to try to stick to what we do and, even though we won 2-0 in the first leg, we are not going to change anything. As far as I am concerned the whole tie starts here.”
The Spaniard welcomes back striker Javier Saviola from injury. The Argentine will make his 100th appearance in European club competition if selected, although Nelson Valdez is also in contention with Michael Olaitan unavailable.
Olympiakos has lost on each of the club’s 11 visits to England, while United have won all previous home games against Greek opponents. It is a history that augers well for a positive result, even if immediate form suggests otherwise.
Still, the focus is on Moyes and United’s performance. The Scot’s claim to have full backing from United’s boardroom will be tested should the Reds exit at the Round of 16 for a second successive season.
“I have a great job and I know exactly the direction I want to go in,” claimed the Scot on Tuesday. “It has not been the season we hoped but I have ideas of what I want to do and what I want to put in place.”
It is a pitch for time that will gain credence only with results. There have been so few of note this season.
Manchester United v Olympiakos Piraeus, Champions League, Old Trafford, 7.45pm, 19 March 2014
United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Rafael, Jones, Vidic, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Fellaini, Kagawa; Rooney; van Persie
Olympiakos (4-5-1): Roberto; Torres, Papazoglou, Papadopoulos, Holebas; Maniatis, Samaris; Campbell, Domínguez, Pérez; Valdez
United: Lindegaard, Büttner, Ferdinand, Fletcher, Januzaj, Giggs, Cleverley, Welbeck, Hernández,
Olympiakos: Carroll, Manolas, Ibagaza, Marcano, Pelé, Valdéz, Šćepović, Fuster, Bong, Ndinga, Machado
United 4 Draw 0 Olympiakos 1
Referee: Björn Kuipers
Assistant referees: Angelo Boonman, Erwin Zeinstra
Additional assistant referees: Pol van Boekel, Richard Liesveld
Fourth official: Charles Schaap