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Preview: United v Olympiakos

March 18, 2014 Tags: , Matches 18 comments
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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.”

Manchester United v Olympiakos, Champions League, Old Trafford, 7.45pm 19 March 2014On 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

Possible Teams
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

Substitutes
United: Lindegaard, Büttner, Ferdinand, Fletcher, Januzaj, Giggs, Cleverley, Welbeck, Hernández,

Olympiakos: Carroll, Manolas, Ibagaza, Marcano, Pelé, Valdéz, Šćepović, Fuster, Bong, Ndinga, Machado

Head-to-head
United 4 Draw 0 Olympiakos 1

Officials (NED)
Referee: Björn Kuipers
Assistant referees: Angelo Boonman, Erwin Zeinstra
Additional assistant referees: Pol van Boekel, Richard Liesveld
Fourth official: Charles Schaap

Prediction
1-1

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Preview: Olympiakos v United

February 25, 2014 Tags: , Matches 4 comments
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Strange season, this. So poor has Manchester United’s Premier League campaign been that many suspect even the Reds’ 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace on Saturday could be another false dawn. Yet, the cynicism surrounding United’s domestic campaign has, in part at least, dissipated on European nights. After all, David Moyes’ side is unbeaten in six Champions League games to date this season, including scoring nine past Bayern Leverkusen in two games.

The knock-out stages are new to Moyes though, who was only once able to guide Everton into Europe’s premier competition – and then only to a play-off defeat at Villareal’s hands. Yet, the step up in class has been seamless for Moyes this season, with United securing victories over Leverkusen, Real Sociedad and Shaktar Donetsk at the group stage.

Olympiakos represents perhaps a more difficult test still, with Míchel González’ side losing only to Paris Saint German at the group stage this season. The Greek side may not be favourites to progress against United, but victories over Anderlecht and Benfica secured second place in Group C and qualification for the Round of 16.

And with United struggling since the turn of the year Olympiakos coach Michel, the former Spanish international midfielder, is confident that his side could put the Reds under pressure in what is likely to be a testing atmosphere at the 32,000 capacity Karaiskakis Stadium.

With the return leg in three week’s time sandwiched between United’s fixtures against Liverpool and Manchester City David Moyes’ outfit will do well to secure a first leg lead. It is, says Michel, a game in which the pressure resides with United rather than the greeks.

“Their Premier League situation could be an incentive to them or it could be a burden on their shoulders, we know there’s lots at stake for Manchester United in this match,” Michel said on Monday.

“This kind of situation may weigh too much on their players’ shoulders. United cannot afford any mistakes tomorrow given their position in the Premier League. Experience counts but I think it’s an advantage that a lot of our players don’t have experience at this level. The passion we have displayed to get here will guide us and with all due respect we can create problems for United.”

United’s challenge is exacerbated by Juan Mata’s absence for the visitors. The diminutive Spaniard is cup tied having already appeared for Chelsea in the Champions League. In the Spaniard’s stead Antonio Valencia is likely to be recalled, disrupting an attacking quartet of Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Adnan Januzaj and Mata that started together for the first time at Palace on Saturday.

Rooney celebrated his new £15 million-a-season contract with an admission that his side has struggled this season. United’s 10 defeats in all competitions has seen the Reds drop out of contention for next season’s Champions League and out of both domestic cups.

Olumpiakos v Manchester United, Champions League, Karaiskakis Stadium, 7.45pm 25 February 2014Elsewhere, Rafael could return after missing two games with concussion, although both Phil Jones and Jonny Evans are injured and missed the trip to Greece. It means Moyes is likely to change his back four once against this season, with Chris Smalling moving inside, Rio Ferdinand dropping to the bench and the Brazilian starting at right-back.

Meanwhile, in central midfield Tom Cleverley could return with Marouanne Fellaini having completed almost 90 minutes against Palace after months out with wrist and groin injuries.

“I’m looking forward to the game. I was fortunate to watch Arsenal and Bayern Munich and I really enjoy Champions League games,” said Moyes on Monday.

“To get through was first and foremost important. To win the group was an added edge. Now I’m looking forward to this one. It’s a really tough game, Olympiakos have a good record here and we know, over the tie, we’ll have to play well to qualify.

“Olympiakos did very well against PSG and Benfica. They came through a difficult group, they have a great home record here. We know it will be a difficult night. They have a big support. It’s far from an easy match.”

There is better news for the visitors in the hosts’ missing players, leaving Olympiakos’ potentially light on goals having sold leading scorer Konstantinos Mitroglou to Fulham during the January transfer window, and with Argentinian striker Javier Saviola unavailable through. Not that the home side has struggled to score goals this season – 103 have come in the domestic league campaign to date.

Yet, Olympiakos begin the tie with United some 23 points ahead of rivals in the Super League having dominated domestic competition for more than a decade. Mitroglou’s sale proffers the impression of a club secure in domestic success and satisfied with reaching the knock-out stages of the Champions League. Mitroglou scored a hat-trick in a 3-0 win at Anderlecht and 14 further goals in the league before departure to west London.

The 40-times Greek champion is seeking to reach the Champions League quarter-final for the first time since 1999 in a first appearance in the knockout stages for five years. It is a goal inhibited by history; United having won each of the four previous meetings between the clubs. The Reds secured a 2-0 victory in the 2001/02 group stage when David Beckham and Andy Cole scored. Sir Alex Ferguson’s team won 3-0 at Old Trafford in the return.

But there are some familiar faces in the Greeks’ squad, including former United goalkeeper Roy Carroll, who played for the Reds between 2001 and 2005. The Northern Irishman is remembered for a difficult period at Old Trafford, but sees a weakness in the current United incarnation.

Carroll is likely start on the bench on Tuesday night after joining the Greek side from OFI Crete in summer 2012.

“They look nervous,” said Carroll on Monday. “Every time you watch them this season you just feel that the opposition will score. It’s weird – you don’t associate that with Manchester United.”

That is United’s new reality of course, although seemingly not always in European competition. Strange season indeed.

 

Olympiakos Piraeus v Manchester United, Champions League, Stadio Georgios Karaiskakis, 7.45pm, 25 February 2014

Possible Teams
United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Rafael, Smalling, Vidic, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Cleverley, Januzaj; Rooney; van Persie

Olympiakos (4-3-3): Roberto; Maniatis, Papazoglou, Papadopoulos, Bong; Ndinga, Pérez, Machado; Campbell, Olaitan, Domínguez

Substitutes
Olympiakos: Carroll, Manolas, Ibagaza, Samaris, Fuster, Marcano, Pelé, Valdéz, Holebas

United: Lindegaard, Giggs, Hernández, Büttner, Ferdinand, Fletcher, Kagawa, Cleverley, Welbeck, Fellaini

Head-to-head
Olympiakos 0 Draw 0 United 4

Officials (ITA)
Referee: Gianluca Rocchi
Assistant referees: Elenito Di Liberatore, Gianluca Cariolato
Additional assistant referees: Paolo Mazzoleni, Paolo Valeri
Fourth official: Alessandro Giallatini

Prediction
0-0

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