Manchester United’s season continues to disintegrate as a tepid performance in Athens saw them fall 2-0 in the away leg of their Champions’ League last 16b tie to Olympicos. The Greeks were widely perceived to be the weakest of the teams left in the competition, but they still managed to outplay the Premier League champions, and will look to the return leg with understandable confidence. Europe had been a relative bastion of stability for the club as they completed the group stages in relative comfort, but with players now openly questioning the team’s set up, alarm bells may well be ringing in the Old Trafford boardroom.
United seemed bereft of inspiration and and whilst industrious, that was never going to be enough to subdue an eager home side who seemed to sense early on that here was an opportunity to take a treasured scalp. Dutch striker van Persie cut an isolated figure for much of the game, blazing his one chance, during stoppage time at the end of the game, high over the bar.
Interviewed after the game, he remarked that “My fellow players are sometimes occupying the spaces I want to play in,” he told the Dutch broadcaster NOS, when asked whether he was being asked to drop deep to collect the ball. “And unfortunately, they are often playing in my zones. I think that's a shame. And when I see that, it makes it difficult for me to come to those spaces as well. So that forces me to adjust my runs, based on the position of my fellow players.” It hardly constitutes a ringing endorsement of the manager’s tactical acumen, and once such talk begins to emanate from the dressing room, there’s often trouble ahead for the manager.
Rumours of discord between van Persie and Moyes have been bubbling away for some time, Only in the summer there was reports from a Dutch fitness coach that the new manager’s training methods were not up to standard, and an Persie’s return from injury was stymied by a setback which seemed to be caused by rushing him back into first team action too soon, meaning a further prolonged absence.
Interviewed after the game, Moyes said that: “To a man, you could hardly pick anybody out. We just didn't perform. I take responsibility. It is my team and I will always front it up. We didn't play well. We have to play better. We can do and the one good thing is that there is still a second game to come.”
That’s all true of course, but if united cannot weld a more cohesive team structure together before then, it may see the end of their Champions’ league campaign for this season.
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