The FourFourTwo Preview: Olympiakos vs Man United
Eleven points off fourth-placed Liverpool with 11 games to go in the Premier League, the Champions League now stands as David Moyes' last chance at turning his first season at Manchester United into anything other than a major disappointment. Before he can contemplate winning the thing, however, United must see off the 'unbeatables' of Olympiakos.
- OFI 0-4 Olympiakos (Lge)
- Olympiakos 4-2 Platanias (Lge)
- Atromitos 1-1 Olympiakos (Cup)
- Veria 0-5 Olympiakos (Lge)
- Olympiakos 2-0 Panionios (Lge)
MAN UNITED FORM
- Palace 0-2 Man Utd (Lge)
- Arsenal 0-0 Man Utd (Lge)
- Man Utd 2-2 Fulham (Lge)
- Stoke 2-1 Man Utd (Lge)
- Man Utd 2-0 Cardiff (Lge)
The Red Devils topped their group pre-Christmas and stand as one of only three remaining unbeaten teams in this season's Champions League, alongside Madrids Atletico and Real. Furthermore, United are yet to trail in the competition - a commendable achievement, though on the flip side it means we don't know how a Moyes United side will react should they go behind in Greece.
And that's a pretty feasible prospect. United have gone behind in 13 of their 27 league games this season, with mixed results - only thrice managing to turn the result back in their favour, against Sunderland, Stoke and Hull.
Olympiakos were widely considered an easy draw when pulled out of UEFA's hat, but the manner in which they are romping through the Greek Super League makes them dangerous opponents. Undefeated in 26 outings, with just nine goals conceded and 78 scored, the 40-time Greek champions are sauntering their way to title number 41.
Indeed, since Spanish coach Michel took over Olympiakos have only lost four games - three of them in Europe including a 4-1 battering against PSG in their opening group match at the Karaiskakis.
True, the Greek league is far from Europe's elite - particularly during what is a down period for Greek football what with an economic crisis that has scarred their progress - but Michel has described this clash as 'like a final' for his side and there is no doubt they will be highly motivated for what they will see as a big chance to progress to a first Champions League quarter-final since 1999.
Olympiakos generally line up in a structurally solid 4-2-3-1 formation. Having lost their main goal-getter Kostas Mitroglou to Fulham and with Javier Saviola injured, Michael Olaitan, Hernan Perez, Joel Campbell and Alejandro Dominguez are likely to be the men to provide attacking impetus. Dominguez is Olympiakos' joint-top scorer in the competition along with Saviola and Kostas Manolas, provided we ignore the now-departed Mitroglou's three.
United have never lost against Greek opposition, drawing two of their 10 outings and winning the rest, while Moyes too has experience of grounding the Greeks. His Everton side saw off Larissa 3-1 in the 2007/08 UEFA Cup and beat AEK Athens home and away in the Europa League (same competition, different label) in 2009/10.
Player to watch: Marouane Fellaini (United)
Fellaini's return to first-team action in the 2-0 win at Crystal Palace after over two months out with back and wrist injuries was a welcome boost to Moyes' team. "I thought he played really well," Moyes said of his bustling Belgian after the Palace game. "Maybe he's needed a bit of time to settle and stand back and have a look at things, but everybody needs a bit of time to settle at times."
Fellaini has singularly failed to impress at Old Trafford since his £27.5 million signing from Everton and missed a sitter at 0-0 at Selhurst Park, but did offer some glimpses of his qualities in that win. Fellaini could therefore keep his place in midfield alongside Carrick and will have to be wary of Dominguez, who regularly makes forward runs to support the attack. The Belgian has made more fouls per game than any other player in the Champions League and his niggly, persistent fouling has been an issue throughout in Europe thus far.
He was lucky not to be sent off in the 1-1 draw at Shakhtar Donetsk but couldn't avoid the red card at Real Sociedad after stacking up the foul count once again. United are likely to sit deep in Greece and look for the counter-attack, and Fellaini will be an important part of that strategy if selected.
Known as an astute tactician, Michel spent most of his playing career at Real Madrid where he was part of the famous Quinta del Buitre era - the quintet of homegrown players that guided the capital club to much success. Michel won six league titles with Real Madrid and two UEFA Cups, helping eliminate Tottenham in one of them - his only previous experience against an English side. Opposing manager Moyes, in his first full Champions League campaign, needs a result in a tie United are expected to win.
Facts and figures
- Man United have won their 4 encounters with Olympiakos, all in the Champions League.
- Olympiakos are unbeaten in their last 5 home games against English clubs in the Champions League.
- The last team from England to beat the Piraeus club on their own soil are Man United in October 2002.
- Olympiakos have faced 2 penalties in the Champions League this season but both have been saved by their goalkeeper, Roberto.
- Man United are 1 of only 3 teams still unbeaten in the Champions League this season, alongside Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid.
- Ryan Giggs (139 games) is only 3 games short of equalling Raul’s record of 142 appearances in the Champions League.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Olympiakos will be fired up but Moyes' United have tended to look more comfortable in European away games; the manager's more conservative approach yielding results in Europe and, recently, at Arsenal. 1-1.
ZENIT VS DORTMUND
- Zenit’s last 4 home games in the Champions League have been draws - the only remaining team yet to win at home.
- Dortmund have scored 5 goals in the last 15 minutes of games, the most in this season’s Champions League campaign.
- None of Dortmund’s last 10 Champions League games has ended in a draw.
Meanwhile, on Screen Two...
An early kick-off in Russia means you can get away with watching both games, if so inclined. Jurgen Klopp's Dortmund travel to St. Petersburg to face Zenit in a game Arsenal fans might be eyeing with some regret, having fallen to second spot in their group and passed over a tie with Zenit in favour of a beating at the hands of Bayern Munich. Joint top of their domestic league, Zenit haven't played a competitive fixture since their last Champions League game - a 4-1 shellacking at the hands of Austria Vienna in their final group game in December. Will they be fit, fresh and raring to go? Or ring-rusty, out of practice and on the back foot from the off?
From Dortmund's perspective, the game is a chance to put their Bundesliga woes behind them. An injury-ravaged season only got worse at the weekend when Klopp's side were beaten 3-0 by relegation-threatened Hamburg. This is the first time these two teams have met in UEFA competition, but Dortmund are unbeaten in their four previous matches against Russian opponents. Zenit new boy Jose Rondon has been cleared for action and could feature, while Milos Jojic and Manuel Friedrich are new registrants for Dortmund.