Olympiacos – Manchester United (Champions League)
Manchester United travel to Greece welcoming the return to the one competition they have been successful this season. Regardless of the domestic predicaments David Moyes’ side went through the Champions League group stage unbeaten and won Group A. Olympiacos’s season is almost the exact opposite: they are yet to lose a tie in their country’s competitions but struggled to the very last minute to secure a spot in the last 16. On Tuesday both team start anew and in the end there can be only one, progressing.
Olympiacos leads the Greek League with 74 points, 20 over the opposition. Their domestic track-record for the season counts no losses, both in league and cup matches – 32W/ 4D/ 0L. Their only defeats happened in the Champions League Group Stage to Paris Saint-Germain, 1-4 in September at home, 2-1 in Paris in November. The Parisians cruised through the group’s fixtures and ended on top of Group C. It took Olympiacos all they had to progress, level on points with Benfica they got the ticket due to a superior head-to-head record.
In January they have lost their main star and top scorer Kostas Mitroglou – that is still Greek League’s top scorer top with 14 goals – but Olympiacos has manage to cope without him remarkably well. Their score-sheet is quite impressive, 104-22 in all competitions, with mere 9 hits conceded in the League. In their last 2 games they’ve netted 8 times.
Javier Saviola and Dimitrios Siovas are ruled out due to injury. Nelson Valdez and José Holebas will face fitness tests prior to kick-off.
Probable line-up: Roberto – Salino, Medjani, Manolas, Bong – Maniatis, Samaris – Campbell, Dominguez, Fuster – Valdez.
Apparently taking the squad for a short break in warmer weather paid-off, or so it seems, judging by last Saturday’s 0-2 victory over Crystal Palace. Now, let’s not go over our heads, it was just Crystal Palace. Still, 2013/2014 United will get what they can, beggars can’t be choosers, right?
Despite David Moyes boast he believed in the work that was being done, and that all they needed was more time for things to fall into place, he made a few changes. He brought Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini in playing side by side, for starter. Time and time again insisting on playing a 4-4-2 formation that doesn’t suit United’s players he introduced an holding midfield component and immediately the dynamics shifted, all of they game passed through there. It’s not enough but it’s a start. Some say Wayne Rooney celebrated the millionaire new contract with a powerful performance. He was going on his fifth consecutive appearance without scoring or assist a goal, not his usual self. I think he was celebrating the fact he could play were he is more comfortable and can do his best work, not having to drop all the way down and run all over the pitch trying to put down fires. Let’s hope Moyes allows this formation to set, and them we can seriously consider United still have a chance of doing something good for the season.
Probable line-up: De Gea – Smalling, Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra – Fellaini, Carrick – Valencia, Rooney, Januzaj – Van Persie.
Both Olympiacos and Manchester United have a key player ineligible for rest of the Champions League run. The Greeks will be without Serbian striker Marko Scepovic, that made an hat-trick just last week against OFI Crete, United will miss Juan Mata since he already played for Chelsea in the competition.