United’s Greek tragedy was hardly a shock to anyone who has watched David Moyes’ side toil all season.
What had been anticipated as a difficult season is lurking towards a disaster for Man United.
Champions League victory in Lisbon appears to offer the only way of playing with Europe’s elite next season, an unlikely a proposition given their form, but the pairing with Olympiakos gave renewed optimism. However the result last night put the problems at the club into sharp focus.
The performance at the Karaiskakis Stadium was described as ‘flat’ by Roy Keane, which was perhaps charitable and United will have to up their game considerably at Old Trafford to progress.
Some of the problems encountered by the visitors last night were simply a continuation of their struggles all season.
The entire United squad is lacking confidence to varying degrees, but the defence is particularly culpable, summed up perfectly by the opening 10 minutes at the Karaiskakis Stadium. Patrice Evra had already been booked, Chris Smalling was left looking like Bambi on ice as he has done on a number of occasions this season while Rio Ferdinand seemed determined to prove David Moyes correct for his limited role this season.
That Nemanja Vidic was the most assured defender, with one last-gasp block early into the encounter, makes his departure at the end of the campaign even more difficult for Old Trafford supporters to accept.
Hardly a new problem for this side, but the lack of control in the middle of the park was further exposed last night. Tom Cleverly again struggled to impose himself while his protection of the back four would suggest that his defensive duties are still not up to scratch.
Michael Carrick too had a difficult outing, with his post-match interview drawing Roy Keane to suggest it was every bit as flat as the United performance.
The problem is two-fold as more often than not, Smalling and Ferdinand were resorting to longer punts as they had few other outlays when in possession. The cup-tied Juan Mata and absent Adnan Januzaj were sorely missed.
Devoid of ideas
While the draw appeared to give the Red Devils a great chance of reaching the next round, United appeared to set-up like a team that would have gladly taken a 0-0 draw back to Old Trafford.
Moyes naturally suggested differently prior to kick-off, but from the outset the visitors struggled to trouble the Olympiakos rearguard and it took United until the 89th minute to get their first shot on target.
Roberto in goals, whose name you may struggle to recall such was his involvement last night, will have fewer quieter games between the sticks in Europe.
Absent Van Persie
Physically he may not have been absent in Greece, but the van Persie of last season was certainly not in evidence when Chris Smalling provided the Dutchman with a gilt-edged opportunity to grab a vital away goal.
Injuries have conspired to leave Moyes without last year’s top scorer on a number of occasions – last night was just his 10th game since the end of October – though his goal scoring record has remained impressive with 20 goals in 26 appearances in total.
The former Arsenal man cut a frustrated figure last night and his post-match comments regarding team-mates taking up his positions will hardly be welcomed by the United boss.
Lack of confidence
An obvious point for a team that has lost 11 games and counting, but the effect is crippling. Last night in Greece Ferdinand looked uneasy in possession, Carrick was guilty of giving the ball away on a number of occasions and Van Persie failed to even hit the target with their one clear-cut opportunity, uncharacteristic for all three concerned.
Smalling’s stumbling may have been partly down to a poor choice of footwear, but was symbolic for his season as a whole, while Cleverly and Valencia in particular are playing well below their potential.
The fact that there will be an anticipated summer clear-out may also be affecting the motivation of some of the squad, but Moyes will have to get out more form his charges to salvage anything from the season.