Manchester United will need a dramatic turnaround to reach the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals after losing, 2-0, at Olympiakos on Tuesday evening in the first leg of their round of 16 tie in Greece.
Alejandro Dominguez gave Olympiakos the lead in the 38th minute, and Arsenal loanee Joel Campbell sealed the victory with a fine-curled finish nine minutes after the break.
United struggled to sustain attacks—failing to register a shot on target until the 89th minute—and the loss will heap more pressure on first-year manager David Moyes. Robin van Persie missed a clear chance to pull a goal back for the visitors in the final 10 minutes.
“It was a really poor performance. We didn't get going from the start. We didn't deserve anything from tonight," Manchester United manager David Moyes told ManUtd.com. "We just never got to grips with things. To a man, you could hardly pick anyone out (who played well). We just didn't perform well."
The second leg is scheduled for March 19 at Old Trafford.
The Champions League represents United's only remaining chance for silverware this season. In fact, winning the competition might be the Red Devils' only route into next season's competition.
Sitting 15 points behind Premier League leaders Chelsea, United also trail fourth-placed Liverpool—who currently hold the league's final Champions League spot—by 11 points.
Up next for Moyes' side in the Premier League is a trip to West Bromwich Albion on March 8. Then, after a home match against Liverpool on March 16, United are set to host Olympiakos in the second leg at Old Trafford three days later.
For Tuesday's first leg, Moyes made three changes to the side that won, 2-0, at Crystal Palace in the Premier League over the weekend. Tom Cleverley replaced Marouane Fellaini in holding midfield, while Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia started on the wings in place of Adnan Januzaj and the cup-tied Juan Mata.
Olympiakos created the first moment of danger in the eighth minute. Capitalising on a slip by United defender Chris Smalling, Dominguez dribbled through the heart of United's team before shaping to shoot inside the box. Dominguez seemed likely to score, but Nemanja Vidic slid across at the last moment to block the Argentine's attempt.
United slowly settled, and Cleverley shot over the bar after Olympiakos failed to fully clear a corner in the 17th minute. Hernan Perez had a chance at the other end after turning Smalling in the 26th minute, but his shot went wide of the near post.
The hosts then went ahead seven minutes before half-time. Giannis Maniatis shot from the edge of the box, and Dominguez flicked the ball past United goalkeeper David De Gea, who was leaning the opposite direction and was unable to react in time to make the save.
Leading 1-0 at half-time, Olympiakos nearly had another chance early in the second half after a United giveaway. But Perez's shot was weak and was easily saved by De Gea.
But De Gea was helpless in the 54th minute as Olympiakos doubled their advantage via a fine strike by Campbell. Receiving the ball in the middle from Michael Olaitan's layoff, Campbell cut to his left before curling a superb effort inside De Gea's right-hand post for a 2-0 lead.
With United reeling, the home side continued attacking, virtually without reply. Maniatis tried his luck from distance in the 65th minute, and Olaitan blazed an effort high and wide two minutes later.
United finally had a clear chance in the 82nd minute, when Smalling picked out Van Persie in the box with a cross from the right. But the Dutch striker blasted his shot well over the bar.
The Red Devils finally produced a shot on goal one minute from when Van Persie ran onto Danny Welbeck's heavy touch in the box and poked the ball on target. But Olympiakos goalkeeper Roberto Gago was on hand to save.
Reaction to follow…
|Panathinaikos Player Ratings vs. Man United|
|David Fuster (for Campbell, 67')||N/A||7|
|Paulo Machado (for Dominguez, 76')||N/A||7|
|Nelson Valdez (for Perez, 86')||N/A||7|
|Manchester United Player Ratings vs. Panathinaikos|
|David De Gea||7||7|
|Robin van Persie||5||5|
|Danny Welbeck (for Valencia, 60')||N/A||6|
|Shinji Kagawa (for Cleverley, 61')||N/A||6|
Olympiakos host Panathinaikos in the Greek league on Sunday.
Manchester United play at West Brom in the Premier League on March 8.
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