Clueless, Careless, Everything We've Come To Expect

That was David Moyes' Manchester United. A lack of invention and a crippling fear of an inferior opponent. United didn't make Olympiakos look good, they made themselves look terrible...

Last Updated: 26/02/14 at 09:08 Post Comment

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Robin van Persie might believe that "eight to ten teams" can win the Champions League this year, but on this evidence Manchester United belong in the remaining six to eight. Even the Europa League might be too good for them. Against the weakest team to reach the last 16, the English champions were clueless, careless and gutless. It was the sort of inept performance we have come to expect during David Moyes' reign as United continue their descent into mediocrity.

The plan appeared to be an intention to sit deep, frustrate an inferior opponent by keeping things tight in the opening period and then attempt to hit Olympiakos on the break through pace on the flanks. The plan didn't work. Moyes was clearly wary of the danger the hosts could create, while he left one of his main threats out of the squad. Unless Adnan Januzaj is struggling with an injury yet to be reported, it was an unforgivable decision.

The 19-year-old's absence, along with the cup-tied Juan Mata, meant that United started with Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia on the wings. Both received fierce criticism from Roy Keane at half-time in a performance the former United captain described as "very, very ordinary". "They've been slow, they've been sloppy and they've lacked quality," said Keane. The situation failed to improve in the second half as United mustered only one shot on target in 90 minutes.

The biggest concern on this occasion was not the lack of invention we have become accustomed to under Moyes, but rather United's fear of a side to which they are quite clearly superior. Instead of thinking about how they could hurt Olympiakos, the champions were preoccupied with concealing their own weaknesses. The result was a sense of anxiety that permeated through the team as they were strangled by their manager's insistence on caution rather than enterprise.

There is a train of thought that the players should carry the can for United's woes this season, and that Moyes has been hindered by a lack of quality within the squad. While there may be some truth in that argument, it has never looked more vulnerable than in the Karaiskakis Stadium on Tuesday. Olympiakos were forced to sell their best player to Fulham in the January transfer window, and yet they still out-played a team containing five players who have previously won the Champions League.

Keane said that Moyes must have been "shocked" by the lack of quality in the United squad, but this is an easy excuse the manager simply does not deserve. A drop in form following Sir Alex Ferguson's departure was always to be expected, but United have gone from an 11-point title-winning margin to being 11 points behind fourth place. They have conceded a 40-point swing to Liverpool from this stage last season. West Brom, Newcastle, Everton and Swansea have all broken records by winning at Old Trafford.

If there is any hope for United ahead of the second leg, it is that they can't play much worse. Keane's final line was that they made Olympiakos look good, but that wasn't true. Olympiakos looked poor, repeatedly making bad decisions and giving the ball away, and yet United were somehow worse. They made themselves look terrible.

"It will be far from easy," said Moyes before the tie. But it was easy for Paris St-Germain when they won 4-1 in Athens in September. The problem for United is that we have come to expect nothing less than every match being a different mountain to climb.

Matt Stanger - he's on the Twitter.

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