Olympiakos beat Manchester United 2-0 in Piraeus, Greece in what was an unconvincing performance by the English team. After the match, Moyes openly admitted that his team had performed below par, while his opposite number Michel was celebrating what is a famous victory in what was being seen as Greek football’s biggest match this season.
The question that everyone right from David Moyes to football pundits and every fan to have ever pulled on a Red Devils jersey is – how did a team, which last season won the league by 11 points, reach such dire straits where they are out of the reckoning for 3 out of four cups and are fast seeing their fourth and last chance of any silverware this season slip away as early as March.
An example of how abysmally Manchester United played – after the flares at the Karaiskakis Stadium died down, after the euphoria faded away, the Olympiakos fans must have reflected on last night’s game and wondered how they scored only 2 goals. Only 2 goals. Against the Manchester United, the three-time winners of the Champions League and the reigning champions of England.
Moyes’ team selection was met with raised eyebrows everywhere. Juan Mata of course was cup-tied but neither Kagawa nor Fellaini started. Young did start, as did Valencia and Cleverley. And the biggest surprise was that the one bright spot for the Red half of Manchester, Adnan Januzaj did not even make the bench.
After last night’s performance, United need to probably overhaul their entire team. The defense is too shaky, the midfield is too slow and old, while the team does have a plethora of attacking players, they seem to get all Bambi-on-ice-like in front of the goal. Yes, injuries in the back have played a large part in United’s current league position, but so far, they were playing well in Europe, including a 5-0 demolition of Bayer Leverkusen. Then Michel and the Kokkinoi came along and exposed the frailties in the team.
The match started off the way it finished – with Manchester United on the back foot. By the 7th minute, Vidic (who is leaving in the summer, by the way), was forced to make a last-ditch tackle to prevent Olympiakos from going in front. After that, perhaps the home team gave United too much respect for the next 15-odd minutes, till the Greek club’s playmaker Alejandro Dominguez realized that the visitors were doing the same to them. It was at that point that he took the game by the scruff of the neck and after that United never got back into the game.
The home side’s first goal was a clever, clever flick by Dominguez that sent De Gea the wrong way after Maniatis took a speculative shot from 25 yards out. This was the time that United have famously come back. Yet this goal seemed to drain all energy out of them. Shoulders drooped, hands were kept of the waist, United had already given up.
After halftime, the visitors should have gone looking for the equalizer. Instead, they went looking as if they wanted to play out the game with the same scoreline. This is not the best of philosophies to adopt, and Sir Alex would have blown his top if a team under him did such a thing. However, parking the team bus in front of goal requires a very basic ingredient – a strong defense, which United do not have. Something which Joel Campbell demonstrated with a superb curling shot that De Gea could do nothing about.
After the second goal, Moyes sent on Kagawa and United switched to what they have been doing unsuccessfully all season – crossing in. The day was summed up for United when a Smalling cross found an unmarked Robin van Persie 12 yards from goal with only the goalkeeper to beat, a move which the Dutchman promptly killed by shooting over.
This victory means that Olympiakos are the closest they have ever been to the quarter-finals of the Champions League since the 1998-99 season. For United, though, this is yet another calamity in a catastrophic first season for Moyes.