Feb 25, 2014, 4:37 PM EDT
Piling on to the festering misery of their 2013-14 campaign, Manchester United suffered their first ever loss to Olympiakos on Tuesday, a 2-0 defeat in UEFA Champions League that leaves its competition’s survival in serious doubt. With goals from Alejandro Domínguez and Joel Campbell, the Greek champions took a commanding lead in the teams’ Round of 16 match up, holding the Red Devils without an away goal ahead of the teams’ return leg three weeks from now in Manchester.
Olympiakos broke through in the 38th minute when Alejandro Domínguez’s deflection rolled inside David de Gea’s right post, leaving England’s champions down one at halftime. Ten minutes into the second period, however, the hosts were up two, with a long curler from Joel Campbell taking advantage of lax United defending to seal the club’s first win in five all-time meetings against the English titans.
United finished the match having controlled possession, a deliberate but passive style allowing them to keep 61 percent of the ball. At full-time, however, they registered only one official shot on target. Olympiakos, on the other hand, had put four shots on de Gea, their 12-7 edge in total shots speaking to the difference in the teams’ attacking intent.
Electing to pursue goals rather than control, Olympiakos won what’s sure to become a famous victory, the club having lost each of their four previous meetings with United. As a result, the team is 90 minutes away from the quarterfinals, with the now hovering specter of a road goal at Old Trafford leaving the Greek champions with one foot in the competition’s quarterfinals.
From the opening kickoff, Manchester United settled into a passive posture, one that granted their hosts a monopoly on the first half’s chances. Dropping central midfielders Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley deep toward the defense when in possession, the Red Devils were more intent on controlling the game than generating actual scoring opportunities, something that left Olympiakos goalkeeper Roberto with little to do before the first intermission.
Seven minutes before halftime, one of those Olympiakos shots finally found twine, sending the underdogs into the dressing rooms with a 1-0 lead. Off a ball cleared out of the United area, midfielder Giannis Maniatis fired a speculative shot from well outside the penalty box toward a crowd of players near the spot. One of those players, Domínguez, opened his right foot onto a touch, pushing his deflection toward David de Gea’s right post. Wrong-footed and diving in vain, the United keeper could only watch as the game’s first goal rolled inside his right post.
Ten minutes into the second half, the underdogs doubled their lead, with a lax effort from United’s midfield allowing Campbell to beat de Gea from beyond the arc. After a Cleverley giveaway in the Red Devils’ half, Olympiakos forward Michael Olaitan laid a pass off for Campbell cutting in from the right flank. Taking one touch around Carrick, the Costa Rican international had plenty of time to curl his 24-yard shot around de Gea and inside the left post, giving the Greek champions a 2-0 lead.
United manager David Moyes quickly responded by bringing on Danny Welbeck and Shinji Kagawa (at the expense of Antonio Valencia and Cleverley), but having ceded the night’s momentum to their hosts, United’s tendency of possession without potential persisted through the final whistle. As the Karaiskakis Stadium crowd started to realize the inevitability of their team’s accomplishment, their voice began to embolden their players. Only a Robin Van Persie chance from near the penalty spot in the 82nd minute carried the aura of a breakthrough, though when the team’s best finisher put his shot well over the bar, the Red Devils were relegated to their latest embarrassing result.
Thanks to competition’s format, Moyes has 90 minutes to engineer a comeback, one that’s not beyond the reach of a team with United’s talent. But after a first leg where the Red Devils played so far below their potential, an Olympiakos victory can no longer be seen as an upset. The upset will be if United go through.
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