So David Moyes saves his job, for the time being at least. Manchester United’s handsome but somewhat tense win over Olympiacos takes them to the Champions League quarter finals for a record time, and makes Friday’s draw all the more glamorous.
So the spilling of the beans starts here and how often do you see an almost half-blind guy putting in a shift for more than a hour on a football pitch. Antonio Valencia exemplified the passion and commitment draining down the red shirts at Old Trafford tonight; he could go down in history as the man who saved Moyes’ job.
Ryan Giggs was linked with replacing Moyes in the United hot seat after their weekend loss to Liverpool but in one of the most emphatic squashing of rumors, Moyes started with the 40-year-old in a untypical 4-2-3-1. Robin van Persie’s anonymity all season coupled with Valencia’s ineptitude and Giggs’ lack of playing time gave United little hope of turning it around. Old Trafford was surprisingly buzzing from the off; it’s at your worst when you find the ones who truly care about you. If the fans were graceful in that Liverpool defeat, they brilliantly fine-tuned their vocal chords for tonight.
Ryan Giggs rolled back the years, while Van Persie got back his shooting boots. Olympiacos, for all their healthy-looking 2-0 lead from the first leg, edged around until they went behind on aggregate. Hernan Perez’s spurned chances and David de Gea’s impressive goalmouth exploits ensured that the home fans went home happy and satisfied. But as has been their season so far, United fans could ill-afford to sleep well.
Moyes’ reactive nature of tactics saw him use runners in wide areas to nullify the threat of Olympiacos’ full-backs. Leandro Salino and Jose Holebas made hay in the first leg; but the presence of Valencia and the quicksilver Danny Welbeck meant that they had to be far more restrained. While Valencia dug in both defensively and offensively aiding Rafael, captain Patrice Evra was getting far less breathing space down his flank with the more attack-minded Welbeck ahead of him.
The run of play was with United but occasional breaks meant that Olympiacos too had their fair share of chances. Joel Campbell and Perez troubled, but were far too wasteful. And when things turned from bad to worse, United sat deep and invited pressure without much damage. Delvin Ndinga and Giannis Maniatis controlled the midfield as desperation crept in, while their magician Alejandro Dominguez failed to conjure up anything significant.
United were surprisingly accurate with their shots throughout the match. Only Wayne Rooney’s late curler was the one off target out of 10. Such statistics provide much hope for a brighter future; at least there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Juan Mata was absent through ineligibility; but his presence causes a certain sense of indiscipline and clumsiness in Moyes’ gameplan. One of the more reluctant managers when it comes to turning it around with tactics, David Moyes would rather have the workaholic Rooney in his first XI than the less-running-but-more-cunning Mata.
Ryan Giggs’ fine performance merits a new contract; issues of him being physically incapable of playing an entire season still remain. But you need guys like Giggs for nights like these, not an entire season. He oozed class throughout, and picked out RvP with a fine cross-field ball that fetched the penalty. He dictated play with the far more conservative Michael Carrick alongside him.
As for Olympiacos, it was a tough but valuable exercise for the Greek champions. And tonight showed the importance of a two-legged tie; you could be played off the park in the first leg but there’s always a chance if there’s another 90 minutes to play. After all football is a one-off game. Not many teams could claim to come to Old Trafford with a 2-0 lead and the fact that they remained in the hunt until the final whistle bodes well for Greek football and Greece in general.
The ghosts of sacking could now be safely laid to rest until it resurfaces again; Manchester City travel the short distance in a week’s time and if ManUtd could put up a display as brave and productive as tonight, they might well be doing the title race some favors. Knee-jerk reactions after the Liverpool defeat made for a ManUtd-laminated social media ever since. Patience is a virtue when it is least favored; and success comes to those who wait. Sir Alex Ferguson was seen all smiles after the final whistle; United fans would certainly be hoping for more of the same.