copyright Andrew Orchard
Monday’s Champions League last 16 draw saw David Moye’s team paired with the Greek side Olympiakos, with the first leg to be played in Athens on the 25th February. What should we expect from the team blocking United’s path to the quarter finals?
Who’s The Boss?
Former Real Madrid midfielder, Michel, is the current manager of Olympiakos. The 50-year-old had two fairly uninspiring spells in his native Spain, with Getafe and Sevilla, before moving to the Greek capital in February 2013. His team went on to win the championship last season and have already made a strong start to their current campaign.
The Spaniard took the opportunity to revamp his squad in the summer transfer window, bringing in the likes of Javier Saviola from Malaga and Joel Campbell from Arsenal (on loan). Never shy to voice his opinion, he is certainly feeling confident ahead of the prospect of facing United. He has announced that his side “are in for two tough matches… but I fear no opponents”.
How’s Their League Form?
United’s poor start to the season would suggest that domestic form isn’t necessarily an indicator of how a team will perform in the Champions League. However, it is worth noting that Olympiakos have got their Super League campaign off to a scintillating start. They already sit 10 points clear of second place PAOK after 16 games, having scored a spectacular 48 goals on their way to the top. Averaging over 3 goals a game, home and away, is no mean feat.
Olympiakos are also very strong defensively, having only conceded 6 league goals this season. Clearly they are a team high on confidence, with both defence and attack currently firing on all cylinders. Historically however, their domestic dominance has hindered rather than helped any progress in the Champions League, as United’s opponents have only reached the last four of the competition once, back in 1999. It would seem that teams who enter the competition from poor domestic leagues ultimately struggle to transcend their league form into continental dominance. For more information, just ask Celtic.
Fox In The Box?
Konstantinos Mitroglou has been in sparkling form this season, with the striker contributing 22 goals for club and country. With Liverpool and Arsenal reportedly monitoring the 25-year-old’s progress, a two legged tie against United will give the Greek international a chance to showcase his talents against an English opponent.
His goals per game ratio has been exceptionally impressive; he has bagged 14 league goals in 10 games this season. With Moyes still uncertain of his best central defensive partnership, there is a chance that Mitroglou could expose any weaknesses. United would be wise to play a high line against the prolific striker, as he is prone to straying offside. He was caught out 11 times in the group stages; only Olivier Giroud bettered that unwanted statistic.
How Did They Get This Far?
Olympiakos came through as runners up to PSG in a group that also contained Benfica and Anderlecht. The Greek side sneaked through by the skin of their teeth, courtesy of a superior goal difference over Benfica. Interestingly, their water tight domestic defence conceded 8 times in the 6 group matches. Mitroglou top scored for the club in the group stage, with 3 goals.
Anything Else We Should Know?
UEFA have announced that the first leg, in Athens, will be played in a partially closed stadium. This punishment has been handed down for “racist conduct of supporters, insufficient organisation, the setting-off of fireworks and the use of a laser” during Olympiakos’ clash with Anderlecht in their last group game. The news could be a bonus to United, who will be looking to use the subdued home atmosphere to their advantage.
On a cheerier note, the tie will also give United fans the opportunity to welcome back a legend to the club in the return fixture. Whether Roy Carroll, current Olympiakos shot stopper, can expect quite the reception Ronaldo received last season, remains to be seen…
Moyes has complained about his side’s bad luck this season, so seeing Olympiakos’ name come out of the draw on Monday must have felt like Christmas coming early. Compared to facing Real Madrid at the same stage last season, United’s second round opponents this time are possibly the lowliest side left in the competition. United famously enjoy strong finishes to their season and their players are well trained in the art of playing in continental competitions midweek, before league duties at the weekend. It is possible that Olympiakos will face the full wrath of a United team just beginning to find their rhythm when the two sides meet in February and March next year.
If United fail to overcome Olympiakos it will be a major surprise. Moyes will be confident of wins, home and away.
Stats courtesy of ESPN
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