It’s been a weird year of constant disappointment for Manchester United on the local scene (by their own standards) but surprising success in the Champions League, which takes them undefeated into the knockout stage and a night in Pireus against Olympiakos, who are just shy of perfection this season in Greece.
They’ve won 24 of 26 matches, leading PAOK by 20 points, scoring 78 goals and conceding only 9 in what is quickly turning into something of a joke of a league. Olympiakos did well at home in the group stage with wins over Anderlecht and Benfica, but they were outclassed by PSG and have sold Mitroglou, their top scorer, to Fulham, which means they’re not that worried about making it into the next stage.
For Manchester United, the group stage was something of a cakewalk, a sharp contrast from their disappointing season in the Premier League. They’re currently 6th, 11 points below the 4th spot which leads to the Champions League qualifiers. However, they have won their last match, 2-0 away to Crystal Palace, and it seems they’re finally with both Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie without any issues, contractual or health-wise, for the rest of the season.
Olympiakos don’t have any injury scares while Manchester United can’t play with Juan Mata (ineligible) and Nani, although he hasn’t been a part of the team for quite some time. Rafael, Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and Danny Welbeck are all doubtful and match time decisions, so it’ll be another excuse for David Moyes to rotate and put on a lineup no one actually understands.
Are Manchester United headed in a new direction? Hard to say, especially because their inconsistency this season tells us that their Champions League form has nothing to do with their league form, and that a good result like an away win against an in-form team usually is followed by something quite disappointing.
Prediction – Moyes doesn’t play any different in the Champions League, but his style does seem to work better, and his cautious, predictable approach has been working so far. Olympiakos are good, but this is a different scale of rival, and they’ll lose their match at home, like pretty much everyone so far in the knockout stage.