Written by Damien Kayat for @Hollywoodbets.
Olympiakos vs Manchester United | Tuesday 25 February | Karaiskaki Stadium | 21:45
If there ever was an example of contrasting footballing fortunes, this game would have to be it. The Greek outfit are seemingly motoring towards victory in their domestic league; their perennial battle against Panathinaikos has not materialised this year as they currently lead by twenty points. They have scored a staggering 43 goals at home and will prove a tricky fixture for a United side desperately looking for some European salvation this season. Their top four chances look completely obliterated and a decent European Cup run may be the only thing that can save United and David Moyes’ failing credibility.
To Win (90mins)
Manchester United 11/10
Olympiakos’ group progression was marred by a humbling at the hands of PSG. Aside from that blip, the Greek side were ruthlessly efficient in dealing with both Anderlecht and Benfica, the latter of which were heavily fancied to progress alongside PSG. Their progressive manager, Michel, will be hoping to dictate the midfield area, an area of particular vulnerability in this current United vintage. Maniatis and Samaris have formed an impressive midfield partnership that stands in stark contrast to the utter inconsistency in United’s midfield selection policies.
There are some quite amusing sub-plots amidst the Greek side, with former United keeper Roy Carroll a possible starter for this tie. On loan Arsenal striker Joel Campbell may get the chance to run out against his parent club’s greatest rival. Michel may play it cautiously and go for the 4-5-1 formation that can look to exploit United’s midfield deficiencies. Former Argentina international Javier Saviola may not have the pace he used to up front, but against an aging Vidic and Ferdinand, he will pose a constant threat.
Scepovic may come in for the usual first choice forward Olaitan, due to the fact that he netted a hat-trick in their last outing. Olympiakos will be quietly confident that they can upset the applecart against a United team struggling for fluidity this season.
This European odyssey is the only thing that is keeping David Moyes’ head above water with the Old Trafford faithful. Juan Mata is cup-tied, which will likely see Fellaini come into the midfield alongside Carrick. The Belgian was efficient enough against Palace on the weekend and will be looking to have an industrious night. Either Valencia or Young will have to be drafted back into the side, with Valencia the likely candidate due to his running ability on the counterattack.
Wayne Rooney’s ludicrous new contract will hopefully see him return to a semblance of the player he was, as he hopes to rekindle the relationship with Robin Van Persie. United were impressive at home against a talented Shakhtar side, and they showed their propensity to collect valuable draws away at both Shakhtar and Sociedad. Januzaj will be pivotal in getting beyond what will be a stoic defensive shape. I expect a highly motivated performance from United that should stand them in good stead for the entire tie.
VERDICT: Draw 9/4
United should be able to score a goal with their abundance of attacking talent, but I do expect the Greek side to pinch a point, especially given the lack of midfield consistency and declining pace of both Ferdinand and Vidic. David Moyes will be hoping for a tight victory, but will probably be secretly pleased with the score draw.