Troubled United plots salvo to save its season
MANCHESTER - Agence France-Presse
Manchester United plans to overcome a 2-0 first-leg defeat against Olympiacos. REUTERS PhotoStill reeling from its humbling by Liverpool, Manchester United returns to Old Trafford tonight needing to overturn a 2-0 Champions League deficit against Olympiacos to save its season.
The 3-0 loss to Liverpool on March 16 left David Moyes's side 12 points below the top four in the Premier League and, having already gone out of both domestic cups, the Champions League represents a last chance of salvation.
Notions of the club qualifying for next season's Champions League by winning the current tournament appear fanciful, but elimination in the last 16 tonight would suck all intrigue from its campaign.
United was synonymous with stirring comebacks under Moyes's predecessor, Alex Ferguson, but they require a vast improvement on the insipid showing produced against Liverpool.
Worryingly for United, the team's displays appear to be getting worse, despite strikers Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie both operating at full capacity.
They offered disconcertingly little resistance in the first-leg loss to Olympiacos in Piraeus on Feb. 25, but goalkeeper David de Gea has promised an improved showing in the return fixture.
"We know we didn't play a good match in Greece. They were better than us and they won," the Spaniard told the UEFA website.
"But I think that, with our fans behind us, we have to go onto the pitch and fight and attack from the first minute. We will give everything we have and play a lot better than we did there."
United has recovered a first-leg deficit only once in the Champions League era, atoning for a 2-1 loss to Roma in the quarterfinals of the 2006-07 tournament with a stunning 7-1 victory at Old Trafford.
It twice overturned 2-0 scorelines in the now defunct European Cup Winners' Cup, however, beating Tottenham Hotspur 4-1 in 1964 and storming back to beat Diego Maradona's Barcelona 3-0 in the quarterfinals in 1984. Moyes reported no fresh injuries after the defeat by Liverpool, although midfielder Juan Mata will drop out of the squad as he is cup-tied.
"The players are capable of turning it around," said Moyes.
"It's something to go for, it's another game, and we'll do everything possible to make that work."
Olympiacos's first-leg success proved the catalyst for a downturn in its domestic fortunes, as it slumped to consecutive defeats, its first of the season, against Panathinaikos and PAOK.
The Greeks returned to winning ways on March 15, beating Panthrakikos 2-0 to secure a 41st league title. Manager Michel rested several first-team players, but forward Javier Saviola is a doubt after playing a limited role in yesterday’s training session.
Nigerian forward Michael Olaitan and Greek defender Dimitris Siovas have been ruled out due to injury, but Spanish center back Ivan Marcano is in contention after a calf problem.
"We know very well what the team is going to face. We know how difficult it will be," said Michel, who won six league titles and two UEFA Cups as a midfielder with Real Madrid during his playing career.
"Two-nil is not a significant advantage and if we want to advance, we will have to go there and score a goal."
Olympiacos, who has lost on all of its previous 11 visits to England, is bidding to reach the last eight the first time since 1999.