MANCHESTER, England — A trio of thoughts from Man
United’s 3-0 win vs. Olympiakos, which earned David Moyes’ men
a 3-2 aggregate win.
1. Much-needed respite for Moyes
David Moyes had vowed to give Old Trafford a night to remember.
It was an unusually bold promise from a man whose rhetoric can be
as cautious as his tactics, but for once he was true to his word. It led
to a rare highlight this season, a day when the crowd generated a fine
atmosphere and when United were positive and dominant. They have
a wretched record against the better Premier League sides, but they
rose to this particular challenge. Olympiakos were beaten, with a
two-goal deficit overturned to give Moyes some much-needed respite
that ensures United go further than Manchester City and Arsenal in
That, however, is not the major issue. There has been a sea change in
attitude after the Liverpool defeat, with many wondering, publicly as
well as privately, whether Moyes can survive this shocker of a
season. Now, at least, the suggestions that this, or Tuesday’s derby
with City, should be his last game, ought to be incorrect. Two
supposed adversaries, Ryan Giggs and Robin van Persie, played
starring roles. Whether or not they are enamoured of Moyes, at least
they performed for him.
Now the embattled Scot has a Champions League quarterfinal to look
forward to. The problem is that the last eight comprises of Real
Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Borussia
Dortmund, Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and United. Spot the
odd one out; this may be the first time in years, if not decades, when
everyone wants to draw United in the next round.
While they played with brio and uncharacteristic incision — scoring
three goals at Old Trafford for the first time in 2014 — there were
fraught moments at the back, especially in the last few minutes.
Olympiakos, perhaps the weakest team in the last 16, had come
perilously close to scoring throughout.
Hernan Perez skied one shot before van Persie broke the deadlock,
while David de Gea made a terrific double save from David Fuster
and Alejandro Dominguez. A back four of Rafael da Silva, Rio
Ferdinand, Phil Jones and Patrice Evra seemed far from
watertight. At least, though, Moyes’ United did not look a sinking
2. The van Persie of old returned
When van Persie last scored a hat trick for Manchester United, it
clinched them the title and cemented his status as Sir Alex
Ferguson’s favourite forward. Much has changed in the subsequent 11
months — indeed, the past fortnight alone has seen some advocating
Moyes drop the Dutchman and his not altogether convincing
declaration that he loves the Scot’s coaching — but, if only for 90
minutes, this was the van Persie of old.
The most lethal striker in the country came out of hibernation. The
sheer precision of his finishing made van Persie special in his debut
campaign at Old Trafford and, as it was when he earned the match
ball against Aston Villa last April, van Persie’s radar was perfectly
tuned on Tuesday night.
He was on the same wavelength as his teammates; there were no
complaints about them invading his space when Wayne Rooney
crossed for his second goal. They have appeared two individuals
rather than a strike partnership in recent weeks, but it was a moment
when they combined beautifully.
There was a significance for his beleaguered manager and for the
striker himself. It was the first time in four months, since his
November winner against Arsenal, that van Persie had made a
difference in a major match. It was, too, the first time he had scored
in a Champions League knockout game for United (he was guilty of
costly misses at the same stage against Real Madrid 12 months ago).
The worry is that the late injury he sustained will deny him the
chance to face another European superpower in the next round.
When he was stretchered off, many could be forgiven for wondering
when they will see van Persie, whether last season’s magnificent
variety or the current campaign’s less impressive variety, again.
3. Giggs remains a class apart
An icon had rather faded into the background until this week before a
combination of rumour and requirement brought Giggs’ return to
prominence. United were adamant there has been no rift between the
manager and the player-coach. As if to prove it, Moyes duly selected
Yet his comeback cannot be dismissed as a political gesture. Instead,
Giggs’ performance prompted the question of why he has been
marginalised. In aiding Moyes, he also brought the manager’s
judgement into further doubt. Granted only 10 minutes of football since
January, Giggs was parachuted into a pivotal game and flourished.
One expertly guided pass sent Danny Welbeck running clear; the
forward was tripped by Kostas Manolas, who was cautioned. An
elegantly delivered cross was met by Rooney, whose header, via a
vital touch from goalkeeper Roberto, struck the post. When van
Persie was fouled for the penalty he converted, the pinpoint pass to
find the Dutchman had been delivered, inevitably, by Giggs.
His excellence provided yet another indictment of United’s other
central midfielders, be they Tom Cleverley or Marouane Fellaini.
Neither has Giggs’ craft or his class. It is worth remembering that the
finest performance of Moyes’ reign was November’s 5-0 win over
Bayer Leverkusen and the best player on the pitch that night was
On Tuesday, once again, he was outstanding in Europe. On nights
like this, Ferguson’s prediction that Giggs can play on until the
summer of 2015, when he will be well into his 42nd year, sounds
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