David Moyes Tipped to Gamble Future on Nani as Manchester United Host Olympiakos

Nick Akerman@NakermanFeatured ColumnistMarch 19, 2014

Manchester United's Nani prepares to take a corner during his team's English Premier League soccer match against Newcastle at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Wednesday Dec. 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Jon Super/Associated Press

David Moyes is set to gamble on the fitness of Nani during Manchester United's crunch Champions League tie with Olympiakos.

Trailing 2-0 after a dismal first-leg performance in Athens, the Portuguese winger's return could coincide with a more attacking approach from Moyes, as reported by James Ducker of The Times (subscription required), via ESPN:

David Moyes is weighing up whether to throw Nani and Ryan Giggs into his Manchester United side for Wednesday's do-or-die Champions League clash with Olympiakos, according to the Times. ...

A serious hamstring injury has kept Nani from featuring for United since the 1-0 home defeat to Newcastle at Old Trafford on December 7 and the winger only returned to full training last week. 

Moyes said last Friday he was confident his staff could get Nani "up to speed very quickly."

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 07:  Nani of Manchester United is pursued by Vurnon Anita of Newcastle during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Newcastle United at Old Trafford on December 7, 2013 in Manchester, England.  (Pho
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Nani's potential return is likely to split the opinion of United fans. The former Sporting Lisbon star hasn't replicated his best form in recent years and is a source of major frustration. But on his day, he can be a match-winner.

Speedy, incisive and occasionally lethal from long range, Nani's United career has failed to progress since his excellent 2010-11 campaign. While it was always going to be impossible to fill the sizable boots of Cristiano Ronaldo, many Old Trafford followers would have at least expected the player to develop into one of the club's key men.

Nani has made nine appearances across the Premier League and Europe this season, scoring one goal during United's terrific 5-0 thrashing of Bayer Leverkusen in November. The Red Devils' added emphasis on attack during both encounters with the Bundesliga side saw United impress under Moyes—a rare feat this season.

It is worth noting Nani netted at this stage of last year's competition against Real Madrid, before being controversially dismissed for a high-footed lunge on Alvaro Arbeloa.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MARCH 05:  Nani of Manchester United celebrates after Sergio Ramos of Real Madrid scored an own goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 Second leg match between Manchester United and Real Madrid at Old Trafford on March 5,
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

With Juan Mata ineligible for the Olympiakos tie, United are going to need a penetrative force to undo Michel's well-drilled side. ESPN suggests Danny Welbeck and Giggs are expected to start, and if Nani is to be slotted in, it is likely to be at the expense of Adnan Januzaj.

Should Moyes' tactics fail to send United through to the quarter-finals, his journey as Sir Alex Ferguson's successor may well end shortly afterwards. His tenure will certainly be thrust into jeopardy if United fail to overcome Olympiakos and lose to Manchester City on March 25—not to mention West Ham sandwiched in the middle.

Nick Miller, freelancer for ESPN, The Guardian and The Telegraph, tweeted a potential reaction by United's fans:

Someone of Nani's talent should be able to influence the game against Olympiakos, but his inconsistency and lack of fitness is sure to make the task more difficult. Still, Moyes must take risks in a tie that is likely to define his career as United manager.

Should he settle for the same slow-paced, unambitious outfit that were comfortably beaten in Greece, the Scottish boss can expect to wake up to another round of fierce criticism from the morning press.

United have built their legacy around lethal attacking football. It's now time for Moyes to show he has the guts and strategic nous to develop this tradition.