They've already been stung by Alejandro Dominguez once - but twice would just be silly, writes Michael Cox...
As Manchester United prepare for their last 16 second leg against Greek champions Olympiakos, there’s one man they need to get clued up on. Joel Campbell impressed with his pace on the right in Athens, and Michael Olaitan played a crucial role up front, but the main man was unquestionable – diminutive playmaker Alejandro Dominguez, capable of mazy dribbles and excellent through-balls.
Dominguez is an outstandingly talented individual, and there’s a sense of what could have been about his career thus far. Now 32, Dominguez has enjoyed a nomadic career, taking in Russia and Spain between spells in his homeland Argentina, and now his latest adventure in Greece.
He hasn’t quite lived up to the promise of his youth, however, something he has in common with others of his generation in Argentina. Dominguez was part of the 2001 World Under-20 World Cup-winning side alongside the likes of Andres D’Alessandro and Javier Saviola, who Dominguez now plays behind at Olympiakos. Those two, respectively, lifted the Silver and Gold Balls from that tournament won on home soil, but haven’t developed into the world-class footballers we expected.
Dominguez was probably never on their level, but he’s still disappointed he never won a full international cap, despite being a league champion in three different countries.
The Argentine has sometimes been an inconsistent performer, but has generally been popular with fans and has a habit of turning it on in big games. His superb performance for Zenit in the 2008 UEFA Cup semi-final against Bayern Munich sticks in the memory – he ran the game and created two goals in a 4-0 victory. But he didn’t get off the bench in the final, which rather sums up his frustrating career.
After that, Dominguez returned to his first European club, Rubin Kazan, and enjoyed the best season of his career. Rubin retained the title by a country mile and Dominguez scored a career-high 16 goals in 23 games, even if half were from penalties. His mistake, however, was that he tried to use this success as a springboard to a major European league, and struggled throughout an ill-fated spell in Spain with Valencia.
He was behind David Silva, Juan Mata and Joaquin, and ended up returning to his old Argentine club River Plate on loan before joining Madrid-based Rayo Vallecano. His reason for choosing Rayo? Their shirt reminded him of River’s. “The value of the red stripe [diagonally across a white shirt] is very special to me and one of the reasons why I decided to come,” he said. He helped Rayo finish in the top half.
He was always more comfortable as the star playmaker for a good side in a smaller league, however, and has thrived in Greece. He leads the Superleague’s assist charts this season, even if he’s only played five complete games because of his declining stamina. When he was substituted in the first leg win over United, David Moyes’ side immediately had their first significant spell of pressure because they didn’t have to worry about Dominguez’s mazy dribbles.
In truth, that was only Dominguez’s second impressive performance of this Champions League campaign. The first was in a crucial 1-1 draw at Benfica, where he showed his battling qualities, constantly regaining possession and winning a succession of fouls.
He also received the ball in a variety of positions across the pitch, and scored a lovely goal – which proved decisive in Olympiakos’s qualification ahead of the Portuguese side.
Against United, he played in a deeper role – a centre-left position in the midfield of a 4-3-3 – but did something similar. Again, he constantly recovered the ball and dribbled at the heart of the United defence repeatedly. Early on he nearly scored a superb goal after a great slalom run, but was stopped by a last-gasp Nemanja Vidic tackle.
He also opened the scoring with a cheeky flick – what initially looked like a fortunate deflection was actually brilliant improvisation from the Argentine, who was the game’s outstanding player.
The danger is that Olympiakos coach Michel will be too cautious away from home in this competition, and might consider using Dominguez as a super sub. This would be an extremely negative move. After his first leg display, Dominguez will have United running scared, and he’ll be eager to take another chance – perhaps his last – to perform in a game with the whole of Europe watching.