Manchester United’s league campaign came to an abrupt end on Sunday afternoon, losing 3-0 at home to their most bitter rivals. Another impressive Liverpool performance effectively slammed the door shut on any lingering hopes of a late charge towards those coveted top four spots.
The champion’s season to date has been wholly uninspiring and nothing short of a humiliation. Fan’s used to seeing their team challenge on all fronts have experienced previously unthinkable results. With the ‘fear factor’ evaporating Old Trafford is no longer a fortress, witnessing defeats to sides like Newcastle, West Bromwich Albion, Swansea and Everton.
Despite this there remains a faint glimmer of hope, a tough road to redemption in the form of winning the Champions League. Yes you read that right. Whilst highly unlikely, United must find the will and the way to win if they are to rescue this season and indeed the very future of the club.
As Liverpool can testify once you leave that top table of European football there is one mighty struggle trying to regain a seat.
The road to redemption begins with the visit of Olympiakos to Old Trafford on Wednesday evening. After losing 2-0 in the first leg, crucially not scoring an away goal, there is a mountain to climb. Yet with respect to the Greek champions the Red Devils are more than capable of turning this around.
The time has come for David Moyes to deliver. He must be bold in his selection and tactics, his job may well depend on it. His team must score goals and he has an abundance of attacking talent at his disposal to do so.
It is high time that Wayne Rooney was let of the leash and given the freedom to play. It is a mystery as to why United’s best and in form player this season is forced to play second string to Robin Van Persie. He is a match winner and should play in the centre forward role, undeniably his most favoured and effective position.
Moyes must be brave and drop RVP. He effectively fired United to the championship last season but cannot play on reputation alone. There is no room for passengers on such an occasion. He has often been missing in action and looked utterly uninterested at times this season. Dropping him will make a statement that no player is safe and all must perform whilst also giving Moyes the option of a world class striker on the bench with a point to prove if United are struggling.
The manager must also rectify another major selection mistake he stubbornly continues to make. Manchester United have had a top class playmaker hidden away in their squad for too long and it is time to release Shinji Kagawa. He is a player of proven European football pedigree who has not been given a fair chance to prove his worth.
An eloquent, subtle footballer capable of opening up opposition defences if only he could receive the ball in the right areas of the pitch. Kagawa often seems to go missing on the rare occasion he plays, but if you watch him rather than the ball, unlike his teammates, you will see him make run after run always opening up space. It’s a great pity that Cleverley and Carrick are too busy looking at their feet to ever notice his movement as they play another sideways pedestrian pass in midfield forcing the gifted number ten to drop deeper and deeper in search of the ball.
Whatever team Moyes decides to start with he must have them fired up. Already 2-0 on aggregate they do not have the luxury of time. A sense of urgency must be apparent from the start to get the supporters onside.
From the first whistle United must play with aggression and a high tempo harassing Olympiakos, never allowing them to settle into the game. Players and fans alike must work in tandem to create a hostile atmosphere inspiring passion and belief amongst themselves whilst unnerving the Greeks. They should not be allowed to enjoy a single one of those 90 minutes.
United must press and defend from the front winning every tackle, every header and every second ball. Above all the players have to go onto that Old Trafford pitch believing in their own ability and remembering who they are and who they play for if they are to shoot down the Greeks and take a place in the quarter finals draw.
All involved with the club must realise that if they can pull this off they will be five games and essentially three ties away from actually lifting the Champions league trophy, salvaging a lost season and attaining Champions League football without a fourth place finish. They will doubtlessly remain underdogs throughout but should take great heart and inspiration from Liverpool’s 2005 and Chelsea’s 2012 triumphs which both came in the wake of unacceptable league campaigns.
If United are to stand any chance whatsoever of completing this greatest of escapes then it really is time that supporters, players and above all David Moyes began to believe.