Manchester United’s failed season hit its latest “lowest” point Tuesday when it dropped the first leg of its UEFA Champions League Round-of-16 series to Olympiacos 2-0.
The Red Devils must win the second leg by at least two goals in order to reach the quarterfinals. Judging by Tuesday’s performance and its recent form, Manchester United’s European adventure most likely will end March 19 at Old Trafford. Barring an unexpected reversal of form, the Red Devils won’t grace European soccer’s elite competition next season.
Lax defending, bad luck and a couple super pieces of Olympiacos skill contributed to Manchester United’s demise. While Alejandro Dominguez and Joel Campbell scored in the 38th and 54th minutes, respectively, the Red Devils didn’t put up much resistance to the spirited Greek champions. Manchester United out-possessed and out-passed Olympiacos, but the hosts had a greater claim to victory by any objective measure.
Manchester United manager David Moyes called his team’s 2-2 home draw against lowly Fulham “as bad as it gets.” A goalless draw at Arsenal three days later, followed by a 2-0 win at Crystal Palace on Saturday, should have provided the platform for any late-season revival that might come. Wayne Rooney signed a mammoth contract extension Friday, and optimists believed it would turbo-charge that rejuvenation. Those fleeting dreams crashed into reality Tuesday.
“That’s the worst we’ve played in Europe. We didn’t deserve to get anything,” Moyes said. “I’m surprised. I didn’t see that level of performance coming. I take responsibility. We have to play better. The players are hurting. We came into the game with a good mindset, but it didn’t show today, we didn’t offer enough. We didn’t offer enough on the night to create a goal. Olympiacos have a very good home record, though, so it wasn’t unexpected.
“Me and the team didn’t show together. We’ll put it right, we’re determined to put it right, and we’ll have opportunities to do it in the coming weeks. The players are hurting — they know how they’ve performed. The one good thing is that there is a second game to come. Old Trafford’s seen some great nights in the past, and we’ll hopefully see another one. We’ll do everything we possibly can to reverse the 2-0 defeat.”
Moyes believes Manchester United can prolong this season’s pursuit of Champions League glory. After all, its squad is full of accomplished and experienced players. The Red Devils play at the “Theater of Dreams.” These are the defending Premier League Champions. This is the one and only Manchester United. This is all true.
But this is the same Manchester United that occupies sixth place in a league it won by a safe distance last season. This Manchester United is 11 points adrift of fourth-place Liverpool with 11 games to play. This Manchester United turned a “transitional” season into a “rebuilding” campaign in under six months. This Manchester United could fail to qualify for the Champions League for the first time since 1991.
Tuesday’s game was a Greek tragedy from a Manchester United perspective, and Moyes was its author. But it won’t look out of place in what has become a historic failure of a season.