Last weekend, Manchester United were able to get back to their winning ways in a 2-0 victory against Crystal Palace in the Barclays Premier League. Consequently, their victory will be short-lived if the English champions, who travel to Greece to take on the Greek champions, Olympiakos, in the Champions League Round of 16 on Tuesday, fail to record a victory.
On Saturday, United was able to secure their first away win of 2014 with forwards Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie each scoring. The visitor’s played good possession football with Maroune Fellaini making his first start since undergoing wrist surgery. He was also starting to justify his £27.5 Million price tag as he effectively broke up play and made positive forward runs whilst keeping tidy possession of the ball. United and Fellani will be looking to replicate that performance on Tuesday when they hit the road against an Olympiakos side that has won seven in a row in the Greek Super League.
Despite having won seven straight, the Greek champions will be without their star forward Kostas Mitroglou who left for Fulham during the January transfer window. The Greek international had 14 goals in 12 Super League matches and a hat trick in the Champions League group stages.
Additionally, Mitroglou’s successor, Javier Saviola is also out with an injury for Tuesday’s match at Karaiskakis Stadium, so Olympiakos could have an unconventional and weaker forward line.
With Mitroglou’s departure and Saviola’s injury, this could be an advantage for the visitor’s, but United will have their own star player missing in Juan Mata. The Spanish international is cup-tied having featured for Chelsea during the group stages and remained in Manchester with center backs Jonny Evans and Phil Jones who have been ruled out with injury.
In Mata’s stead, United manager David Moyes could deploy Shinji Kagawa to maintain the creative attacking quartet of Van Persie, Rooney, and Januzaj. The Japanese playmkaer has not seen action since United were knocked out of the Capital One Cup in penalties by Sunderland, but the Japanese has been integral in their Champions League campaign.
The last time United played a Champions League game away from Old Trafford; they dismembered Bayern Leverkusen in a 5-0 rout that saw flair player Nani show a glimpse of his brilliance with a delightful chip over the keeper. Kagawa was involved in that victory linking up well with Rooney for much of the match.
This time around it will be interesting to see how Moyes approaches this match. Against Crystal Palace over the weekend, the Scottish manager refrained from using his traditional attack-the-flanks-then-cross-it-into-the-box style opting for more possession based play, and it seemed to be effective against a defense that was willing to load the box.
On Tuesday, Moyes will need to implement a similar strategy in order to secure the coveted away goal and bring back a result to Old Trafford. Another bonus for United being on the road is that during last week’s round of Champions League games; the away teams went undefeated. More than that, the away teams shut out the home teams by an aggregate score of 9-0.
Regardless, when United takes the field against Olympiakos, the legitimacy of their season will be on the line. If they end up of progressing to the next round, the pressure on Moyes and the club will be temporary alleviated. However, if they fail to progress, it might be a long time until they see the highest level of European football again.