Manchester United should beware of Greeks apparently bearing gifts

David Moyes

It’s a caution that relates to the gift of a wooden horse to the besieged Trojans of Homeric fame that eventually led to their downfall. Manchester United visit Athens this week for a tie in the round of sixteen of the Champions League that was widely perceived as the easiest possible draw for the Old Trafford club of the teams that qualified from the group stages.

Whilst Olympiakos having stunning domestic pedigree, their European exploits are far less impressive. The club, now managed by former Real Madrid star Michel Gonzalez have secured the Greek league title every year except two since 1997. Throw in seven league and cup doubles as well, and it’s the sort of dominance even United couldn’t match in the halcyon days of Sir Alex Ferguson. Regular qualifiers for European football’s top table competition therefore, results have been disappointing thereafter. Olympiakos have only qualified from the group stage on three occasions and each time they fell at the first knockout stage.

These events, together with the huge wave of austerity engulfing Greece however have combined to make the tie with United an overwhelmingly special event. Regular glory, diminished by its normality and tightened personal finances have meant that attendances to domestic fixtures may not have been what they once were, but this game will see the stadium packed to the rafters. This is a rare opportunity for glory and fame that would far outweigh a number of domestic titles, and it is this focus that may make the game more difficult than many united fans are envisaging.

The Karaiskakis Stadium will probably be holding close to its 33,334 capacity, but as Michel comments in an article with The Guardian, “this place acts as such a soundboard that it feels like 90,000. When you’re down there, it really moves you.” The old classic European away tactic of ‘silencing the home crowd’ will be at the forefront of David Moyes mind, but the longer the game goes on with a United goal, or should Olympiakos find the back on United’s net, quietening down an excited and partisan crowd may be an uphill task.

Clearly, any bookmaker will only offer you short odds on a United win, but that expectation could, in the land of ancient heroes, be united Achilles’ heel. Confidence is a fragile flower and a couple of goals against an ordinary Crystal Palace team is the hardly stuff of a renaissance of form for United. The game is probably a 90% win chance for the away team, but if things don’t start well, it may end up as an unexpected Greek tragedy for Manchester United.

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