(From left) Manchester United's Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick, Robin van Persie and Nemanja Vidic in disbelief after Olympiakos scored their second goal in the Champions League match. – AFP Photo
JUST when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, Manchester United puts up a horror show at the Karaiskakis Stadium in Greece.
That first-leg defeat to Olympiakos has left the Red Devils with little hope of progressing in the only competition they have any chance of winning. To progress to the quarter-finals, Rooney and Co have to score three goals and hope the Greeks don’t score any in the Champions League second leg on March 19.
A tall order for the team based on their abject first-leg performance. Malaysian fans who stayed up in the wee hours to catch the first-leg match were subjected to a painful experience. The 2-0 scoreline was justified because United were woeful – in attack, midfield and defence.
One step forward, two steps back – that has been the story of United’s season so far. David Moyes has failed to get any sort of consistency with his team’s performances so far.
Before the return leg, are two tricky EPL fixtures. Up next for United is a trip to the Hawthorns. In the reverse fixture on Sept 28, United put up a feeble performance losing to West Brom at home 1-2. That demoralising defeat has led to many false dawns since. Just when the team get on some sort of winning run, they are pegged back by frustrating draws or losses.
An example of this would be after the West Brom defeat. United were unbeaten for five matches after that, culminating in a 1-0 victory over the then league leaders Arsenal. What happened next was baffling. Two consecutive away draws followed by two consecutive home defeats.
Just three days before their Champions League fixture, United entertain high-flyers Liverpool. United’s bitter rivals are in superb form and are one of the favourites to sew up a top-four spot. The Red Devils are a massive 14 points behind Liverpool and a result either way may not have a significant impact on their final league position. But, this is Liverpool and there’s a lot of pride at stake. A home win will go a long way in helping the manager win the backing of the fans.
United’s Greek tragedy, against arguably the weakest opposition left in the Champions League, has really shown how much of an overhaul is needed in the close season. If reports from Britain are to be believed, at least half the current team will have to go.
In the 10-day break that the squad has had since, David Moyes has been spotted at clubs in Germany and Spain, scouting for some of the top European players needed to change United’s fortunes next season.
No doubt, these players will cost a lot, but then, rebuilding an ageing side will prove to be very expensive. Moyes has to convince United’s owners that not only will they have to part with a significant transfer budget, but that he will be the man to oversee the transfers.
The six-year contract that the Scot got at the beginning of the season should insulate him from the sack, but he will know that the honeymoon is over.
Unlike the other top EPL clubs, United tend to stick with their managers, even underperforming ones.
The Glazers are shrewd businessmen. They will know that a season out of the top four and out of the Champions League is not the end of the world. Significant funds are required to strengthen the squad and ensure that this season is just a blip.