Tuesday 22 August 2017

10 reasons for Manchester United to be optimistic of Champions League progress

David Moyes' side must overturn a 2-0 defeat in the first-leg if they are to reach the quarter-finals

Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney
Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney

Manchester United face Olympiakos at Old Trafford tonight needing to overturn a 2-0 first-leg defeat.

When David Moyes' side were drawn against what most would consider a club outside of the 'elite' European team, it appeared a simple path through to the quarter-finals of the competition for the Red Devils.

However, an abject display in the outskirts of Athens sees Manchester United with a tall order if they are to progress, particular off the back of the weekend's humiliating defeat to Liverpool.

Yet there are many reasons for United to be optimistic of going further in the competition and salvaging some pride in what has so far been a disastrous season.


1. Record against Olympiakos

Manchester United have twice before played Olympiakos at Old Trafford in the Champions League, and on both occassions they have won by a margin that would be enough to take them through tonight. In 2002/03, Ryan Giggs (pictured) scored a brace and Juan Sebastian Veron and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer got in on the act in a 4-0 win. Another group stage win was secured in 2001/02, with Giggs and Solskjaer again on the scoresheet with Ruud van Nistelrooy adding the third. Those results also highlight the fact Olympiakos have never scored at Old Trafford.


2. Champions League home record

While United's home form domestically has made Old Trafford anything but the Theatre of Dreams for David Moyes and his team, in the Champions League, things look a bit better. All three home group games were won, with Bayer Leverkusen, Real Sociedad and Shakhtar Donetsk leaving with nothing. United can also point to the fact that prior to losing to Olympiakos last month, they had never been beaten by Greek opposition.


3. Juan Mata is ineligible

At a cost of £37.1m and a couple of player of the season awards under his belt during his time at Chelsea, there is no denying Juan Mata is a top-quality player. But it doesn't seem as though Moyes has yet figured out where to use him, particular when both Rooney and Robin van Persie are on the pitch, something abundantly clear in the defeat to Liverpool at the weekend. The Spaniard is ineligible for the game against Olympiakos, giving Moyes one less headache when he picks his team.

4. 2-0 is a 'dangerous' scoreline

While a lead heading into any second-leg is better than trailing, it can cause problems of it's own. Does a team try to hold on to what they have? Should an attempt be made to add to the advantage? Are players already looking ahead to the next round? Bayern Munich boss Pep Guardiola called a 2-0 lead 'dangerous' ahead of his side's eventual aggregate victory over Arsenal last week. United can also take heart that during the Champions League era, five teams have managed to overturn a two-goal deficit in the second-leg.

5. Incredible support

Moyes has been at pains to keep the support of the Manchester United fans on his side and so far they've backed him. After going 3-0 down to Liverpool at the weekend, Old Trafford was the venue for something more akin to a party than despondency. Fans chanted about United's 20 Premier League titles and showed the team they still have their support. A roaring Old Trafford could make a massive difference tonight.

6. Olympiakos injuries

He was missing from the first-leg too and it didn't make a great deal of difference, but Olympiakos' main forward, Javier Saviola, is still struggling for fitness. Surely Arsenal loanee Joel Campbell can't spring a surprise in his place again?

7. This is it

With the defeat to Liverpool, Manchester United's slim chances of sneaking into the top-four positions are over. And after being knocked out of both domestic cup competitions, there is nothing but the Champions League to think about. Moyes will be hoping this can focus the players, and for those of them wanting to play in Europe's elite competition next season, winning this season's tournament is the only way they can do it.

8. Olympiakos recent results

Prior to the first-leg, Olympiakos had lost just twice all season, and both of those came against PSG in the Champions League. However, in the three games since, they've lost another two. They were beaten at home 3-0 by Panathanaikos and the 2-1 by PAOK. They may have got back to winning ways against Panthrakikos at the weekend, but it would seem they may have taken their eye off the ball since the remarkable win over United.

9. Moyes just has to get a result

Moyes simply must get a result against Olympiakos if he is to ensure support from the United hierarchy does not begin to waver. Following defeat to Liverpool, a poor result against Olympiakos could then be compounded in their next home game which is against Premier League title chasing Manchester City. A Champions League knock-out sandwiched by home defeats to their two greatest rivals might just be too much to take and doesn't bear thinking about for Moyes.

10. This is Manchester United

It may seem United are in a mess, and it would be difficult to argue. But just a short time ago this was a team crowned Premier League champions and only knocked out of the Champions League by Real Madrid after Nani was unjustly sent off. It's also a club that have been regulars in the latter stages of this competition and one that has lifted the trophy on three occassions. This is also a team famous for late comebacks and a never-say-die attitude. Olympiakos are by no means the best of teams - if United can just invoke some of that old spirit they should be in the draw for the last-eight.

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