On Tuesday night, Manchester United were humiliated by Olympiakos two goals to nil in Greece. It was hard to know whether to laugh at United’s performance or sympathise with the fans; the temptation was certainly to laugh.
It was not just the result that was terrible. The performance from the players and the tactics from David Moyes amalgamated into a horror show for United fans worldwide, as Alejandro Dominguez and Arsenal loanee Joel Campbell scored the goals that put Moyes’ United in deep trouble going into the second leg. Of course the players have to take responsibility, but the manager’s tactics going into the match displayed the same naïvety that is making fans restless.
Any away fixture in the Champions League knockout round is tough. The atmosphere at some of the grounds around Europe is frightening, be it at Zenit St. Petersburg, at Galatasaray, or as shown in the Karaiskakis Stadium. For Moyes to approach the game with a 4-4-2 formation, with Tom Cleverley as one of his two central midfielders, was contentious. United failed to get into any sort of rhythm as they were outnumbered in the midfield. It is true that Moyes does not have a lot of experience in the Champions League, but starting with a midfield four like he did was unlikely to win the football match.
The obvious comparison to make is to the way José Mourinho set up his Chelsea side on Wednesday night against Galatasaray with two deep-lying central midfielders protecting the back four and three attacking midfielders pressing the Turkish side further up the pitch. On Tuesday night, Moyes allowed the game to get to the stage where Van Persie, Rooney, Welbeck, Kagawa and Young were all on the pitch, leaving Michael Carrick as the only deep midfielder. That reeked of desperation and it was conceivable that Olympiakos could go on and score another. Moyes must sort out his tactics in the second leg or Manchester United will be going out to the competition’s remaining weak link.
Leaving Michael Carrick as the only deep midfielder reeked of desperation. It was conceivable that Olympiakos could go on and score another.
While Moyes’ tactics are partly to blame, the performance from the players on the night should also come into question. Without Januzaj or Mata in the side, United looked short of creativity and only managed to register their first shot on target in the 89th minute. Young and Valencia were unable to connect with their teammates, though it is hardly surprising given their respective crossing accuracy percentages this season of 16% and 22%. In terms of the central midfielders, only one of Cleverley’s three attempted tackles was successful and he made no interceptions. Carrick, unlike his usual calm self, gave the ball away often and did not get close enough to Campbell when he scored his wonder goal. Van Persie had one gaping chance but blazed over from six yards with his right foot. Apart from that, he and Rooney had little to feed on. Rooney’s tenacity was impressive but he was unable to affect the game in an attacking sense.
Defensively, Manchester United were sloppy and error prone. Vidic looked solid, making an important challenge in the first half. It makes you question why Manchester United would let him go in the summer. Ferdinand’s career is all but over – along with any pace or agility he once had – giving the ball away on too many occasions and not being able to recover. Evra’s age has also come with a dip in performance. Smalling, a natural centre-back, looked uncomfortable on the right.
Last night’s performance was comedic in the sense that Moyes and his players looked clueless and so out of their depth in a match that everyone expected them to come through without too much trouble. It was tragic in the sense that United have fallen so far in the space of a year. With a great chance of crashing out of the tournament early to its weakest team, the remaining hopes of gaining Champions League football next season are dwindling for Manchester United.
Images courtesy of telegraph.co.uk