Why Manchester United Can't Overlook Olympiakos in Round of 16 Tie

Cameron Clow@@camclowContributor IIIDecember 16, 2013

ATHENS, GREECE - SEPTEMBER 17:  Giannis Maniatis of Olympiacos FC in action during the UEFA Champions League group stage match between Olympiacos FC and Paris Saint-Germain FC held on September 17, 2013 at the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium in Athens, Greece. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/EuroFootball/Getty Images)
EuroFootball/Getty Images

Manchester United received what many would call a kind draw when they received a matchup with Olympiakos.

Stuart Mathieson of ManchesterEveningNews.com has the Greek club at 175-to-1 odds to advance. Despite those long odds, United can't overlook Olympiakos leading up to their first match in Athens on Feb. 25 according to Goal.com

United fans are rather keen on their draw, as seen in this reaction video from FullTimeDevils:

Olympiakos, however, can't be overlooked with their confidence riding high from league play, their strong midfield and nothing-to-lose mentality. 

League play is serving Olympiakos a momentum boost and United a massive letdown. 

Barring a pretty large change in the standings, United and Olympiakos will be entering their match under different morale. Olympiakos currently stands atop the Greek Super League at 14-0-1. They are building on an eight point lead after just 15 games.

David Lynch of ManchesterEveningNews.com also points out the Olympiakos' dominance over the 15-game league stretch, writing, "They have scored an incredible 45 goals over that period while conceding—wait for it—just four."

That's three goals per game. 

Granted, that isn't coming against competition like United, but it does tell us that Olympiakos is playing well and building momentum in league play.

Meanwhile, United is in an unfamiliar position, looking up at seven teams in the English Premier League

Graham MacAree of SBNation.com offers a nice summation of United's league play thus far:

"However, having already dropped way out of contention for the league title and having seen the huge cracks in their midfield exposed, it's highly unlikely that United will be able to progress much further in this competition. Despite a number of transfer market flaps they failed to address their key weakness in the summer... United are in a big mess, and it's hard to see them escaping any time soon."

Olympiakos might be able to take advantage of an embattled United squad. To do so, they will have to make the first game count on their home turf. 

Having the first match at home can be a huge advantage if Olympiakos can capitalize. And having an advantage after the first match can alter game plans, force United to push and make the match at Old Trafford less intimidating. 

"We have to make the most of the fact that the first leg is at home, but we must also remember that this is an English team," said Avraam Papadopoulos via Ekathimerini.com. "If an English team produces a great spell of 10 or 15 minutes it can destroy you."

To limit United's attack, Olympiakos will have to control the midfield. Controlling the midfield will keep the ball off of Wayne Rooney's foot and control the tempo of the game.

MacAree writes that, "fortunately for [Olympiakos] winning the midfield battle against Manchester United isn't actually that difficult. Michael Carrick is a solid, dependable player but far from a midfield general, and if Giannis Maniatis can outwork him over two legs, Olympiakos will be in fairly good shape."

That's a task that certainly sounds achievable. Especially, when Maniatis has done it before. 

As Simon Bajkowski of ManchesterEveningNews.com points out, "Maniatis also has history of scoring in victories against English opposition; he grabbed a goal as Olympiakos beat Arsenal 2-1 last season."

Bajkowski has Maniatis as one of the five players to watch via this tweet from Manchester 

The last advantage that swings the way of Olympiakos is the fact that they are a vast underdog. If they win it will be the first time they advance to the quarter-finals since the 1998-99 season, according to ManchesterEveningNews.com.

If they lose, it won't surprise anyone. 

United has the clear advantage as far as talent goes. But with their confidence shredded from league play, weak midfield and having to travel on the first game, United may find themselves in an unenviable position, and they can't overlook Olympiakos.  

If they do, United won't escape the round of 16. 

That puts the pressure on United and allows Olympiakos to approach the games with a nothing-to-lose mentality. 

Olympiakos' coach Michel is actually excited about the opportunity to play United.

"We are very pleased that we are in this draw, we could not ask for anything more." Michel said via Alex Fisher of Goal.com. "We respect Manchester United but our aim is to become like them one day. Call me crazy, but I fear no opponents."

If Olympiakos can capitalize on their first game at home, use their league momentum to their advantage and win the battle in the midfield, then they have a chance to surprise United.

And wouldn't that be crazy?


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