Karaiskakis Stadium, Piraeus
February 25, 2014; 19:45 BST
Manchester United travel to Greece to face Olympiakos in the first leg of their Champions League round-of-16 tie at the Karaiskakis Stadium. At the moment it looks as if United will find it hard to qualify for this competition next season, that is, unless they manage to win the tournament somehow.
Olympiakos have been the most dominant Greece club in recent times. They have dominated the Super League for the past 10 years or so, and are already leading this season’s title race with a 20 points advantage over PAOK. Michel’s men are yet to lose a game in their 26 league matches so far and have won 24 of those games. In fact they have suffered only two defeats this season in all competitions, and both of them came against PSG in the groups stages. Olympiakos are currently on a 15 match unbeaten run and will go into this game with a lot of confidence of getting a positive result.
But Manchester United do have history on their side. They haven’t lost to Olympiakos in their previous four meetings and they returned to winning ways in the league with 0-2 win over Crystal Palace ahead of this match. That was in fact their first away win in this calendar year and they will have to be at their best in order to get a result against Olympiakos away from home.
Team news and tactics
The Red and Whites have fewer injury concernsthan their opponents ahead of this fixture, but they do miss out on two of their key players. Their top scorer, Javier Saviola, will miss out with a thigh injury, and he joins defender Dimitrios Siovas on the side-lines. There are also concerns about the fitness of experienced left-back Jose Holebas, who has seemingly picked up a knock in their clash against OFI Crete, and he will undergo a late fitness test ahead of this match.
Michel did have the luxury of resting a lot of his key players ahead of his fixture during their 0-4 win at the weekend. But despite his endeavour Saviola and Holebas picked up injuries in that game. Olympiakos are expected to make as many as five changes to the side he used against OFI Crete.
Gaeteng Bong, who came on as a substitute in the last game, will replace Holebas at the left back spot, in case he fails the late fitness test. Carl Medjani will be the other change at the back as he pairs up with Kostas Manolas. Giannis Maniatis will resume his role in the pivot, alongside Andreas Samaris, ahead of the back four.
In attack, there will be two changes. Alejandro Dominguez will start in the hole behind the striker, while Nelson Valdez will replace the injured Saviola. Joel Campbell, who is on loan from Arsenal, and David Fuster will provide the width in the attack. But in absence of Saviola and Kostas Mitroglou, who joined Fulham in the winter, Olympiakos will have to find goals from elsewhere in this vital match. Campbell and Fuster could be the key for the home side as Manchester United do look vulnerable in the full back areas defensively. Smalling isn’t a natural right back, while Evra has looked shaky all season long – Olympiakos will look to exploit that.
Expected starting line-up (4-2-3-1): Roberto (GK); Salino, Medjani, Manolas, Bong; Samaris, Maniatis; Campbell, Dominguez, Fuster; Valdez
David Moyes has had to contain with a lot of injuries this season, specially in defence, which is one of the reason behind such inconsistent performances from his side this season. Nani, Phil Jones and Jonny Evans, who have been out for the last few games, will continue their spell at the side-lines. Jones is close to returning to first team action, but Evans is expected to remain out of contention for two more weeks at least.
There are also concerns about the fitness of Danny Welbeck, Rafael and Javier Hernández. The trio will undergo late fitness test to confirm their availability ahead of this game. Hernandez is expected to recover in time, but Welbeck and Rafael are unlikely to play any part in this match. Juan Mata is only other absence, as the former Chelsea midfielder is ineligible to participate in this tournament for the reigning Premier League champions.
David Moyes is unlikely to make too many changes to the starting eleven he used in the 0-2 win over Crystal Palace at the weekend. Antonio Valencia is expected to replace Juan Mata on the right, as Moyes might prefer the former Wigan winger over Ashley Young in this away fixture due to his greater defensive ability.
David Moyes biggest aim in this match would be to put a good defensive show away from home. Manchester United have kept two clean sheets in their last two matches and would hope for a similar performance against Olympiakos. The experience of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic could be vital in the knockout stages of this competition, although neither of them have had a memorable season so far. The knockout stages could provide the perfect swansong for these two old war horses.
Expected starting line-up (4-2-3-1): De Gea (GK); Smalling, Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra; Fellaini, Carrick; Valencia, Rooney, Januzaj; van Persie
Players to watch-out for: Joel Campbell (Olympiakos); Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
Prediction: Olympiakos 1-1 Manchester United