He described the recent 2-2 draw with Fulham as a new low, but for David Moyes, that disappointment must have been usurped by Tuesday’s abject failure in Athens, where there were very few positives to take from Manchester United’s 2-0 reverse to Olympiakos.
This latest setback resulted in even more questions to be raised of the Premier League champions. Is Moyes out of his depth? Was it Sir Alex Ferguson’s influence alone which saw Man Utd win the Premier League by 11 points last season? Did Ferguson leave Moyes with an average squad?
The answers remain a subject of intense debate, but the facts are that so far in Moyes’ seven month tenure Man Utd have rarely looked like the side that were streets ahead of everybody else last season. And that is despite this being essentially the same squad that served Ferguson so well, with the exceptions of Juan Mata, Adnan Januzaj and Marouane Fellaini. Ironically, none of that trio played any part against Olympiakos.
The Greek champions appeared to want it more, and were much stronger in the challenge than their sloppy opponents. Time and again Man Utd gave the ball away, and indeed, they would have been flattered if Robin van Persie had taken his excellent late opportunity.
Too many Red Devils players were ineffective on the night. Tom Cleverley seems to be in favour with David Moyes, and is a regular starter for England, but throughout this season, he has shown that he lacks creativity, goals, and pace. Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia, who have also had a poor campaign by their standards, found it just as difficult to make an impact.
The performance was particularly surprising considering the fact that winning the Champions League this season looks to be United’s most likely way of qualifying for next season’s competition, as they lie 11 points behind Liverpool in the race for fourth place in the Premier League, a gap which would take a miracle to overcome.
Maybe Man Utd underestimated their hosts. They certainly came into the tie as many people’s favourites to make the quarter-finals, but Olympiakos ended the night as thoroughly deserved winners, leaving the English club with the task of doing something that they have only managed once under Moyes – win by a margin of three goals or more at Old Trafford.
Now, the attention will turn to Moyes and whether he can gain some respectability from the final months of his first season in what was billed as the impossible job. Undoubtedly, he needs time, but only so many United supporters will give him their continued backing should results not improve in the coming weeks.
Every game coming up now is a crucial one. The idea of Man Utd failing to qualify for the Champions League is almost unthinkable, but that prospect is looming large. They will need a big performance in the second leg. Before that, they have a two week break ahead of their next game against struggling West Bromwich Albion, where the pressure will once again be on.
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