David Moyes faces his first foray into the Champions League knockout phase as Manchester United switches focus to the European front with a trip to face Olympiacos.
Europe has been a relatively safe haven for Moyes in a troubled first season at Old Trafford, with United progressing comfortably and undefeated from a potentially tricky group. United’s success in Europe has been in stark contrast to a fairly disastrous league campaign.
United warmed up with a comprehensive 2-0 victory at Crystal Palace on Saturday, easily the best performance of 2014 so far. There appeared to be a distinct change in approach against the Eagles and while there have been many a false dawn since Moyes took charge over the summer, it was refreshing to see the return of relatively easy on the eye football.
The win at Selhurst Park, the first victory away from Old Trafford this calendar year, was important ahead of United’s second of three games on the road in a week against Olympiacos in the Champions League, followed by an equally important visit to West Brom on Saturday.
There are likely to be a few changes from the side which bested Palace at the weekend. Juan Mata is cup-tied, Adnan Januzaj is likely to be preserved and Robin van Persie could also be rested while Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young and Shinji Kagawa could push for starting places.
Phil Jones, Nani and Jonny Evans are out but Rafael returned to training on Monday after a concussion.
Meanwhile, Olympiacos have been fabulous this season, sweeping aside all of the opposition in their domestic league having dropped just four points, and they currently sit a huge 20 points ahead of nearest rivals PAOK at the summit.
The 40x Greek Champions, who have also claimed the Greek Cup on 26 occasions, are perhaps the surprise team in the knockout phase after edging through Group C in second spot behind PSG and come with good pedigree They should not be underestimated.
Kostas Mitroglou was a big name departure from the Karaiskasis Stadium in January having already hit 17 goals in all competitions, including a hat-trick against Anderlecht in the group stage, before departing for Fulham.
Former Barcelona forward Javier Saviola has found the net 13 times this season but is likely to miss the game with a thigh strain.
Olympiacos boss Miguel warned opposite number Moyes he can expect a white-hot atmosphere and an attacking side on Tuesday night, while former United stopper Roy Carroll, currently second choice for the Greek side, told BBC Sport his teammates are ready for a ‘nervous’ Manchester United.
Spanish coach Miguel laughed off claims that Olympiacos might be considered the favourites but they are a side who have won 24 from 26 league games this season, including 13 on the spin at home. The reigning Super League champions have scored 78 and conceded just nine goals in the league.
The two sides last met in the group stages of the 2002/03 season and United have won their last four meetings with Olympiakos. The game in Piraeus will be a stern test for the Reds but they should have enough quality to beat their Greek opponents.
Victory and safe progression to the quarter finals would be a big boost for our beleaguered boss and an extended run in Europe’s premier competition would go a long way to restoring the faith in the former Everton man.
It’s now up to the players to raise their game ahead of a big night.
Prediction: Olympiacos 1-2 Manchester United