Manchester United have got three games to save their season.
Some will argue it has been over for months. But before the Champions League Round of 16 first leg against Olympiacos on Tuesday night, they at least had something to play for.
Then, there was still hope that David Moyes' side could yet make inroads in the Champions League and book their place in next season's competition, by dragging themselves back into the Premier League's top four.
But after a dire 2-0 defeat in Greece, and by the conclusion of the return leg at Old Trafford on March 19, those targets could well evaporate.
Before then, United play West Bromwich Albion and Liverpool in the league. Anything but maximum points from those two games, and United's club secretary can start making plans for participation in next season's Europa League—at best.
There have been too many false dawns this season, but victory at Crystal Palace on Saturday night at least raised hopes United would make a fight of finishing fourth.
It was only Palace—themselves fighting relegation—but at least it was a start.
But any optimism it generated dissolved in Athens.
A tie that had seemed very winnable before kick-off is now beginning to look incredibly awkward. And it was United, lackluster and out of ideas, rather than Olympiacos, who made it look that way.
Make no mistake—if United go out to the Greek champions, it will be another disaster for their new manager.
If they can turn it around in Manchester in three weeks' time, it reopens the prospect that their Champions League campaign could yet end in glorious failure. Against the far superior Bayern Munich, perhaps, or Barcelona.
After all, United wouldn't be expected to win those games.
But they were expected to beat Olympiacos when the draw was made before Christmas. And even after a run of one win in four games leading up to the first leg, they were still expected to go through.
The fact that now they might not will only increase the pressure on Moyes.
And so he's got three games to save his first season in charge. And possibly, his job.
The accepted view is that Moyes will only be in serious danger of the sack if performances and results haven't markedly improved by this time next year.
But, if they were to exit the Champions League to Olympiacos and start to slip down the Premier League table, there would have to be serious questions asked by the board in the summer.
It's true that most of the players have seemed like a shadow of themselves this season, but ultimately, it's Moyes' head on the block.
And he's in charge of a team that has ambitions of winning the Champions League—not to be knocked out in the second round by Olympiacos and then failing to qualify altogether.
That won't go unnoticed.
Even in this most disastrous of seasons, United again find themselves three games away from a crisis.
And the planned rebuild at Old Trafford this summer might start to take on a very different meaning if Moyes and United can't salvage something by then.
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