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Moyes under pressure as clueless United slip up in Greece

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Manchester United's Wayne Rooney (L) fights for the ball with Olympiakos' Jose Holebas during their Champions League round of 16 first leg soccer match at Karaiskaki stadium in Piraeus, near Athens, February 25, 2014.    REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis (GREECE - Tags: SPORT SOCCER)

Manchester United's Wayne Rooney (L) fights for the ball with Olympiakos' Jose Holebas during their Champions League round of 16 first leg soccer match at Karaiskaki stadium in Piraeus, near Athens, February 25, 2014. REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis (GREECE - Tags: SPORT SOCCER)

REUTERS

Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick and Robin van Persie are downcast as they restart the game after conceding the first goal during the match against Olympiacos FC in Piraeus, Greece.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick and Robin van Persie are downcast as they restart the game after conceding the first goal during the match against Olympiacos FC in Piraeus, Greece. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Getty Images

Manchester United's coach David Moyes gives instructions to his players during their Champions League round of 16 first leg soccer match against Olympiakos' at Karaiskaki stadium in Piraeus, near Athens, February 25, 2014. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis (GREECE - Tags: SPORT SOCCER)

Manchester United's coach David Moyes gives instructions to his players during their Champions League round of 16 first leg soccer match against Olympiakos' at Karaiskaki stadium in Piraeus, near Athens, February 25, 2014. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis (GREECE - Tags: SPORT SOCCER)

REUTERS

As Wayne Rooney looks on, Olympiakos' Joel Campbell celebrates after scoring the second goal of his team against Manchester United during their Champions League, round of 16, first leg soccer match at Georgios Karaiskakis stadium, in Piraeus port, near Athens, on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

As Wayne Rooney looks on, Olympiakos' Joel Campbell celebrates after scoring the second goal of his team against Manchester United during their Champions League, round of 16, first leg soccer match at Georgios Karaiskakis stadium, in Piraeus port, near Athens, on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

AP

Manchester United's Antonio Valencia (L) struggles for the ball against Olympiakos'Jose Holebas during their Champions League round of 16 first leg soccer match at Karaiskaki stadium in Piraeus, near Athens, February 25, 2014.    REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis (GREECE - Tags: SPORT SOCCER)

Manchester United's Antonio Valencia (L) struggles for the ball against Olympiakos'Jose Holebas during their Champions League round of 16 first leg soccer match at Karaiskaki stadium in Piraeus, near Athens, February 25, 2014. REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis (GREECE - Tags: SPORT SOCCER)

REUTERS

Olympiakos' Joel Campbell, center, celebrates with his teammates after scoring the second goal against Manchester United during their Champions League, round of 16, first leg soccer match at Georgios Karaiskakis stadium, in Piraeus port, near Athens, on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Olympiakos' Joel Campbell, center, celebrates with his teammates after scoring the second goal against Manchester United during their Champions League, round of 16, first leg soccer match at Georgios Karaiskakis stadium, in Piraeus port, near Athens, on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

AP

Olympiakos' Joel Campbell celebrates after scoring the second goal of his team against Manchester United during their Champions League, round of 16, first leg soccer match at Georgios Karaiskakis stadium, in Piraeus port, near Athens, on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Olympiakos' Joel Campbell celebrates after scoring the second goal of his team against Manchester United during their Champions League, round of 16, first leg soccer match at Georgios Karaiskakis stadium, in Piraeus port, near Athens, on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

AP

Olympiakos' Joel Campbell, center, celebrates after scoring the second goal of his team against Manchester United during their Champions League, round of 16, first leg soccer match at Georgios Karaiskakis stadium, in Piraeus port, near Athens, on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Olympiakos' Joel Campbell, center, celebrates after scoring the second goal of his team against Manchester United during their Champions League, round of 16, first leg soccer match at Georgios Karaiskakis stadium, in Piraeus port, near Athens, on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

AP

Olympiakos' Leandro Salino (L) challenges Manchester United's Ashley Young during their Champions League round of 16 first leg soccer match at Karaiskaki stadium in Piraeus, near Athens, February 25, 2014. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis  (GREECE - Tags: SPORT SOCCER)

Olympiakos' Leandro Salino (L) challenges Manchester United's Ashley Young during their Champions League round of 16 first leg soccer match at Karaiskaki stadium in Piraeus, near Athens, February 25, 2014. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis (GREECE - Tags: SPORT SOCCER)

REUTERS

Manchester United's coach David Moyes reacts during a Champions League round of 16 first leg soccer match against Olympiakos

Manchester United's coach David Moyes reacts during a Champions League round of 16 first leg soccer match against Olympiakos

REUTERS

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Manchester United's Wayne Rooney (L) fights for the ball with Olympiakos' Jose Holebas during their Champions League round of 16 first leg soccer match at Karaiskaki stadium in Piraeus, near Athens, February 25, 2014. REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis (GREECE - Tags: SPORT SOCCER)

This was a horrible, aimless, passionless performance from Manchester United. A display riddled with errors from the players and the manager, David Moyes.

United were too cautious in design, too clueless in possession and too generous with space, seemingly inviting Olympiakos to score. Beware Greeks exploiting gifts.

A failure to protect the back-line cost United. Alejandro Dominguez flicked Olympiakos ahead before Joel Campbell doubtless delighted his owner club, Arsenal, by complicating United's chances of progressing.

Only Wayne Rooney, who ran more than anybody on the pitch (12.06km), seemed aware of the need to show some urgency. Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic looked in their last seasons for the club. Chris Smalling and Patrice Evra endured uncomfortable evenings at full-back.

Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley were particularly poor in midfield, Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia weak out wide. Robin van Persie lacked service. United will hope to turn this round with a more upbeat display at Old Trafford in the second leg but they are so vulnerable to an away goal.

CRITICISM

More criticism will inevitably flow Moyes' way for a game-plan out of keeping with away teams in the Champions League.

Moyes' caution had been at odds with the five other away coaches so far in this last-16 stage of the Champions League. All five away teams had really gone for it. All of Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid, Paris St-Germain and Borussia Dortmund had been rewarded with away wins.

Europe is proving a gloomy land for the teams from the Premier League – none of Manchester City, Arsenal, United in the Champions League or Swansea City or Spurs in the Europa League have even scored in the first legs. Over to Chelsea now.

For an hour, United had been too circumspect, too respectful, too tardy in dealing with Olympiakos's insurgents.

Moyes' logic in fielding Tom Cleverley had been to provide some shield with Carrick in front of an ageing central defence yet it was through the middle that United were exposed in going 2-0 down by the 55th minute.

Giannis Maniatis, Oympiakos' captain and central midfielder, kept being able to advance and shoot without any of Moyes' midfielders closing him down swiftly enough.

It was from Maniatis' second shot that Dominguez scored Olympiakos's first. United were too slow to react to such incoming threat, the defence either sitting too deep or the midfielders not assiduous enough in denying the opponents space.

It was not the first time that United had been caught out like this under Moyes.

Carrick was too sluggish to deal with Campbell for the Greeks' second.

They hardly troubled Roberto in the Olympiakos goal with only one effort on target before the break. Their initially conservative approach was strange.

Residing 11 points off fourth in the Premier League, meaning they effectively have to win the Champions League to regain entry, United were in fairly defensive fashion with Cleverley in midfield and Adnan Januzaj absent.

The winger received a kick against Crystal Palace but still travelled to Greece. Juan Mata was ineligible, having represented Chelsea in the competition.

United had been publicly respectful and privately relieved when drawn against Olympiakos, particularly when the runaway leaders of the Greek Super League sold their centre-forward Kostas Mitroglu to Fulham.

Javier Saviola's injury appeared to have further blunted the Greeks' attack which was led by Michael Olaitan. Yet there was a belief and pace to Michel's side that worried United and the visitors' sedentary tactics invited Olympiakos on.

Noting the ageing legs in the visitors' defence, Olaitan immediately closed down Vidic, the United captain who had spoken of the Champions League as a chance to do "something special".

The Serb certainly did something special after eight minutes when United's midfield opened up, Dominguez flew through, ignoring Olaitan to his right and only Vidic's anticipation rescued United.

The visitors looked nervous early on, particularly Smalling at right-back when Hernan Perez was running at him. Delvin N'Dinga sat in front of the Greeks' back four, almost shadowing Wayne Rooney, who was partnering van Persie for the fifth successive game.

Rooney was dropping deeper and deeper, looking for the ball, occasionally almost taking it off the toes of his centre-halves.

At least Rooney was making some challenges, hustling Olympiakos, and when United went 2-0 down, he dropped permanently into midfield.

It was a disappointing half of few chances before Dominguez intervened.

Cleverley skewed an effort wide, Maniatis sent his first daisy-cutter straight at David de Gea, and then Perez cut inside Smalling and hit the side-netting. Olaitan escaped from Vidic but ran into a crowd of players.

Valencia stopped giving the ball away.

It was an even first half defined by that gift of a goal for the Greeks after 38 minutes. Maniatis shot into a crowd of players and Dominguez flicked the ball towards the far-post.

De Gea was wrong-footed, initially moving to his left in line with Maniatis shot before seeing Dominguez's involvement. De Gea threw himself to his right, stretching out a hand but the ball slowly crossed the line.

The evening deteriorated for United 10 minutes after the break.

Rooney had been attempting to help protect the defence, rushing back and making two interceptions. Carrick and Cleverley stood off Maniatis again.

Then Carrick failed with a desultory attempt to win the ball off Campbell, the attacker on loan from Arsenal, who strode into space and curled the ball left-footed around De Gea. Again it was such poor, insipid play from United.

Moyes reacted by withdrawing Cleverley and Valencia, placing Danny Welbeck on the left, pushing Young to the right and placing Shinji Kagawa behind Van Persie with Rooney now back in midfield.

FRAUGHT

Uncertain in defence, timid in midfield, United lacked purpose and ideas in attack. Their crosses were fraught. Young dithered. They were being outworked by the hungrier Greeks.

Olaitan seized on some hesitancy by Carrick. Dominguez ran through and Vidic stopped him. Olaitan dribbled away from Carrick and was fouled by Rooney.

Rooney kept trying, running vainfully for an over-hit ball from Vidic. Van Persie then controlled a Smalling cross but shot over as Olympiakos appealed for offside.

Errors continued to litter United's display. Rooney lost the ball to Maniatis. Smalling sliced a cross into the crowd, much to the locals' amusement. Still the mistakes continued. Rooney fouled Nelson Valdez.

Ferdinand caught David Fuster. As the game entered injury-time, Kagawa played Evra down the left but his touch was too heavy and his cross deflected up and was caught by Roberto.

United need a fresh, more vibrant approach in the second leg otherwise their season fades to grey. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent