I flew out to Greece to watch the Champions League last-16, first-leg match between Olympiacos and Manchester United.
As far as United’s performance is concerned, I’ll just say this: I, like many of you, did not see that coming at all.
And ahead of the second leg, I’m not even confident enough to assure anyone that United will indeed turn this around.
A decade ago, I would have shouted from the rooftops that we should all back the Red Devils to progress despite a two-goal deficit from the first leg. That confidence in United in Europe is now long gone.
It’s sadly ironic, given that United will forever be associated with the difficult art of turning around such a scoreline in Europe’s top competition after their 1999 semi-final heroics against Juventus.
Funnily enough, I had the pleasure of spending my return flight sat next to one of the stars of that seminal second leg in Turin – former United skipper Roy Keane.
It would have been fantastic to have killed the air-time joining Roy in purring at United’s continued good form in the Champions League, which has been their beacon of light amid a dark domestic campaign.
Unfortunately, it was the opposite. And the performance in Greece was so alarming, by the time the plane landed four hours later Roy and I were still breaking down the first half!
We have to be honest, with all respect to Olympiacos – they’re a very average team, on the European scale of things.
And I’m sure they will not be too offended by such a statement when they sold the player most responsible for them reaching the last-16, Kostas Mitroglou, to Fulham in January.
They cashed in on their form striker because their participation in the 2014-15 CL is all but assured, domestically, and they saw more use in cashing in on him than trying to be at full strength in hopes of a fairytale cup run – the latter, to them, just wasn’t going to happen.
They may have changed their minds now, even if reaching the last eight all-but guarantees an extremely tough tie next. And they have the problems at United to thank for their status as this season’s European overachievers.
A lot has been said already about individual showings. The likes of Ferdinand, Smalling and Evra at the back were very sub-par, the midfield failed to assert themselves and even big guns Rooney and van Persie were firing blanks - but that wasn’t the most disturbing aspect of the loss to Roy and I.
What would have most disappointed the travelling United fans, and those watching on TV, would be the complete lack of mental application on display from the team as a whole.
Olympiacos did not exactly dazzle their guests with a surprising degree of attacking play – they just out-worked them in every area. And it was all far too easy for them, to boot.
Even if David Moyes can motivate the side to amend for this miserable performance in the second leg and complete a comeback which will look somewhat impressive in the record books, we knew on the plane back from Greece that the damage has been done to United’s general European hopes.
Should they somehow make the quarter-finals, it’s now hard to see them having much more hope of getting past a Real Madrid or a Bayern Munich than Olympiacos would.
And United’s March in general is going to be a very tough one, not least when they have the Manchester derby to contend with.
I know Keane gets a lot of stick from some circles for how opinionated he is, and how blunt he is when he criticises the club he helped lead to such dizzy heights, but when it came to Tuesday’s game we were in complete agreement.
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