Let’s face it people, Manchester United was the luckiest team at the draw in Nyon as Olympiacos are arguably the weakest club in the Champions League’s Last 16. The Greek champions have joined the elite group after finishing second behind French champions Paris Saint-Germain.
However, funny things do happen in football now and then. Look at Greece’s triumph in 2004, Porto and Monaco clashing in the Champions League final and Fernando Torres actually scoring the winner last year against Barcelona.
All Man United fans are over the moon at the moment but I am afraid that underestimating Olypiacos would be a terrible idea.
The Greek club’s path to qualification wasn’t covered in tulips as they had to face PSG, one of the best clubs in Europe, Benfica, last season’s Europa League finalists, and Anderlecht, the Belgian champions. Therefore, they did paid their fair amount of dues to get here.
Olympiacos won both fixtures against Anderlecht and remained undefeated against Benfica, as they drew 1-1 in Lisbon and snatched a win in Greece, which sent the Eagles to third place. The Parisians admittedly beat the Legend in both legs but the Greeks came ever so close to snatching a point before Edinson Cavani’s late goal.
The Red Devils’ opponents might not be as tough as many Premier League clubs but they are nevertheless champions. A true champion bows down to no one and walks away from nothing, and that is exactly what Olympiacos is all about. The players are very aware of how heavy the badge is and how demanding the club’s fans are. They are also undefeated in Greece where they count 45 goals in 15 matches and have only conceded four. If they go down, they will go down with style.
The Piraeus club is also no stranger to talent as there are plenty of skillful players in the roster such as Javier Saviola who is definitely the most famous player in the team and is well remembered for his time at Barcelona, Benfica and Monaco. He would also love to earn a spot at Argentina’s squad ahead of the World Cup.
Nevertheless the most popular player in the club is rising star Kostas Mitroglou. The Greece international has scored 14 goals in 10 League matches and recently became the first ever Greek player to score a hat trick in the Champions League. His latest success has caught the eye of Inter Milan as well as Premier league’s Liverpool and Arsenal.
Furthermore, the Olympiacos keeper Roberto Jimenez Gago has given some extremely heroic performances for the Greeks as he solely stopped Benfica at home in many occasions. Arsenal’s Joel Campbell is on loan and will be starting on the wings with quite possibly Vladimir Weiss, former Manchester City man, on the other side. Campbell counts five goals and seven assists in 14 League matches whereas Weiss’s dribbling skills may cause some problems to David Moyes’s defense, especially inside the box.
Manchester United are expected to have their work cut out in Greece as the stadiums there are notorious for their hot atmospheres and rowdy fans, and this is something that Olympiacos feed from. The home advantage will be evident and Moyes should keep in mind that the Greek champs know how to exploit their opponents’ shortcomings.
After PSG’s Marco Verratti was sent off and Zlatan Ibrahimovic was substituted during the fixture in Paris Olympiacos made plenty of chances and even scored a goal with a header by Kostas Manolas, for whom Newcastle have shown interest. After Anderlecht got their first player sent off in the last fixture the Greeks were having a right laugh on the wings.
More importantly, the Red Devils have proven that their Achilles heel lies on midfield as Marouane Fellaini’s transfer has yet to pay off and for now Man United lack a creative midfielder. Olympiacos have been able to neutralise almost all of their opponents’ problematic midfield and so the players have been able to find a lot of space and easily reach their wingers and strikers.
This is not the first time those two teams will collide and history was indeed not very kind with the Greeks. The two clubs have clashed four times and the Red Devils have won all of them with a goal difference of 12-2.
However this happened back in 2001-2002 and 2002-2003 in the golden era of David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Sir Alex Ferguson, whose absence is strongly felt. Now Manchester United are on eighth place in the Premier League with only seven wins in 16 matches and five losses. Olympiacos also can’t be compared to the team back then as they have turned into a proper European team thanks to former manager Ernesto Valverde and current gaffer Michel.
More importantly though, Olympiacos have absolutely nothing to lose. The Greek champions already seem like they will win the League for the fourth time in a row, they are still in the Greek cup and have made it to Europe’s Last 16. They have therefore already achieved all of their feasible goals. No one will blame them if they get eliminated so they will be playing with a very clear mind. But if United fall short then the Chosen One and the players will receive a tremendous amount of criticism, frustration and nagging. The Greeks are fine with elimination; the Manchester club though doesn’t even want to think about it.
Therefore, Olympiacos will definitely not be easy-pickings and should under no circumstances be undermined. The numbers, stats, pundits and everything else show that United are the clear favorite and they indeed are. Nobody is really expecting a miracle but once that whistle blows all bets are off.