Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney stretches during a training session at the Carrington training facility in Manchester, northern England, yesterday. Manchester United will play their Champions League match against Olympiakos today.
LONDON: With hopes of a top-four finish in the Premier League fading, Manchester United approach today’s Champions League last 16 first-leg match at Greek champions Olympiakos desperate for a positive result.
Not only does the competition represent United’s last realistic hope of silverware this season, but David Moyes’s side may need to win the Champions League just to qualify for next season’s tournament.
United are currently 11 points below Liverpool, who occupy the fourth and final Champions League place, and with only 11 games of the season remaining, qualification via the league may already be beyond them.
United have won only four of their 11 matches since the turn of the year, but the Champions League provided a respite from their domestic woes during the European autumn.
The three-time continental champions qualified comfortably as Group A winners, winning four and drawing two of their six matches and enjoying handsome 4-2 and 5-0 victories over last year’s runners-up Bayer Leverkusen.
Nevertheless, with Arsenal and Manchester City having already lost their own last 16 first-leg matches, to Bayern Munich and Barcelona respectively, the tournament final in Lisbon on May 24 remains a long way off.
“Only one team can win it, and it’s very hard,” United striker Robin van Persie told Champions magazine.
“It’s a trophy many players don’t win; once, if you’re very lucky. You have a couple of players who’ve won it more than once, but it’s a very special trophy everyone wants to win every year.
“It seems to get harder every year to win it, because the teams are getting better and better. So it’s always hard if you want something everyone wants.”
United warmed up for today’s game at the Karaiskakis Stadium in Piraeus by winning 2-0 at Crystal Palace in the Premier League on Saturday, with Van Persie opening the scoring from the penalty spot.
Wayne Rooney doubled United’s lead to mark his 300th league appearance for the club with a goal and celebrate his new five-and-a-half-year contract, which is reportedly worth £300,000 a week.
It was a rare straightforward afternoon for United manager Moyes, who was able to start a game with Rooney, Van Persie, Adnan Januzaj and record signing Juan Mata in his team for the first time.
Meanwhile, Borussia Dortmund head to Zenit Saint Petersburg for today’s Champions League last 16, first-leg clash on the back of a shock Bundesliga defeat and injury worries.
Last year’s Champions League finalists Dortmund slumped to a shock 3-0 defeat at relegation-threatened Hamburg on Saturday and lost defensive midfielder Sven Bender for the next 10 weeks with an inflamed pelvis.
Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp has promised improvements in Saint Petersburg.
“Things will be very different there,” said Klopp before Monday’s flight to Russia.
Zenit certainly have the squad to trouble Dortmund with the likes of Brazilian striker Hulk and ex-Arsenal attacking midfielder Andrei Arshavin.
“Our team is fit and we are fully focused, a big plus for us is our great fighting spirit,” said Zenit’s ex-Bayern midfielder Anatoliy Tymoshchuk.
Zenit’s director of sport Dietmar Beiersdorf was at Hamburg’s Imtech Arena to witness Dortmund’s debacle.