What we learned from Manchester United’s Champions League disappointment at Olympiakos


With apologies to Olympiakos, today’s takeaways are all about Manchester United. Though the Greek champions deserve kudos for one of the biggest victories in club history, the favorites’ inability to become the sixth Champions League group winner (in six games) to claim victory is Tuesday’s big story. While some where picking Míchel’s team to spring an upset in Piraeus, nobody thought it would be this easy, with United held to one shot on target in Olympiakos’s 2-0 win.

Within the context of an unexpectedly disappointing 2013-14, Manchester United’s takeaways all fit a bigger narrative. With an attack that lacked both direction and intensity, the Red Devils failed to rise to Tuesday’s occasion. As a result, they’re on the brink of missing the competition’s quarterfinals for a third straight season.

(MORE: Manchester United sinks to new depths in 2-0 Champions League loss at Olympiakos)

  • Manchester United couldn’t get up for a big game

Manchester United aren’t alive in either the League or FA Cups. The gap between themselves and fourth place Liverpool in the Premier League suggests they have almost no chance to finish in England’s Champions League spots. Their only way to avoid missing the competition for the first time since in 18 years is to pull a 2011-12 Chelsea and run the table. They need to  win it all.

Yet against an Olympiakos team that would fail to place one of their starters in United’s Tuesday XI, the Red Devils were clearly second best. Their offensive shape portrayed a side playing not to lose, with the Red Devils’ spacing more indicative of a team trying to use up time than combine for opportunities. This was Alex Ferguson’s typical shut it down on the road plan, only it wasn’t Alex Ferguson’s team. This was a team that allowed the game to be dictated to them – one that gave itself no opportunity to generate (let alone seize upon) opponents’ mistakes.

Manchester United was completely devoid of urgency in what should have been their most important game of the season. If they wanted to play for a 0-0, they should have fought for that result, however misguided that plan seems. Instead, they allowed Olympiakos a first half lead, seemed content to let Joel Campbell try to double in shortly after half time, and were relegated to the latest in a season full of exasperating results.

source: AP

  • It’s unclear what David Moyes wants Manchester United to do going forward

Back to United’s attack. The team’s possession number hovered at around 60 percent for the entire game, but in a first half hour where they could have used that edge to press for a vital away goal, United rarely seemed interested in establishing a presence in Olympiakos’s defensive third. Releasing both fullbacks early and relying on Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley to support the defense, United also forced Wayne Rooney to abandon his strike partner, Robin Van Persie, to fill the hole in midfield. Though Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia were pinching in from their flanks, the lack of combination play through the middle left Van Persie neglected and isolated. It wasn’t until late in the match that United’s best finisher started seeing chances.

That’s what United did. The lingering question is what were they supposed to do. Were they supposed to use the middle, with those high-pushing fullbacks stretching Olympiakos’s midfield? Or were they supposed to go wide, as they’ve gone so often this season, with Young and Valencia giving the Red Devils more players to pounce on Chris Smalling and Patrice Evra crosses?

Who knows. United were so poor on Tuesday, it’s pure speculation to guess what they were trying to do going forward.

  • The Red Devils are too mistake-prone to play for a low-scoring game

Let’s assume Manchester United wanted a slow pace. They wanted to use their superior talent to manage the game, maintain possession, and limit Olympiakos’s chances. Let’s concede they would have been happy with a 0-0, thrilled to see a counter attack or a set piece result in an away goal.

Let’s also acknowledge that with Manchester United’s talent, this is a terrible choice.

Even without Juan Mata (cup-tied), Manchester United’s strength is its depth and variety in attack. They have Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney as focal points. In Michael Carrick, they have a registra that’s capable of getting them the ball. With pieces like Young, Valencia, Shinji Kagawa, and Danny Welbeck, David Moyes had a series of imperfect yet useful pieces he could mix-and-match to take advantage of his opponents weaknesses. As evidenced in their group stage performances against Bayer Leverkusen (nine goals over two games), United’s attack can take advantage of Champions League’s middle tier.

But the team also has a mistake prone defense, with age continuing to show in the play of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand. They also have a central midfield incapable of protecting that duo, and while neither of those factors were evident on Olympiakos’s first goal, each came into play on the second. Cleverley lost possession, Carrick failed to make a crucial tackle, and Ferdinand did not get out to meet Joel Campbell’s shot. Again, Manchester United was left reliant on the shot stopping of David de Gea, only this time, the talent Spaniard couldn’t save them.

With a back line that features Chris Smalling, Vidic, and Ferdinand, Moyes can’t play for clean sheets. When his defenders are on their game, those results will certainly come, but when they’re not clicking, the Red Devils don’t have the guile of John Terry, Gary Cahill, and Branislav Ivanovic – a trio with the ability to preserve a result even if the initial plan doesn’t work.

If Moyes’s initial plan was to play for a clean sheet on the road, it was a poor one. While that may be one of the first pages in the Champions League playbook, it was also a poor fit got his personnel.

Blessed with elite attacking talent, Moyes should have played for a high scoring result. Instead, he allowed his team to leave Piraeus trailing by two.

La Liga roundup: Barcelona win big in another dominant performance

<> at Camp Nou on November 28, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain.
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Catch up on all of Saturday’s La Liga action, as the trio of Messi-Suarez-Neymar continues to terrorize defenses.

Barcelona 4-0 Real Sociedad

In case you haven’t heard, Barcelona is scary good. Coming off of brilliant 4-0 and 6-1 wins over Real Madrid and Roma respectively, the Catalans trounced Real Sociedad at Camp Nou. It was the usual suspects once again, as Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Neymar (x2) scored the goals in another masterful performance. The M-S-N trio has accounted for 30 of Barcelona’s 33 goals in La Liga this season.

Atletico Madrid 1-0 Espanyol

While the boys from Barcelona may be getting all the headlines, Antoine Griezmann has been having a great season for Atletico Madrid. The French international scored the game-winner in Atletico’s 1-0 win over Espanyol, his tenth in all competitions this season. The good news is that Atleti sit second on the table with a five-point lead over Real Madrid in third, while the bad news is that midfielder Tiago broke his leg in the match.

[ WATCH: Everton, Bournemouth trade late goals in stoppage-time thriller ]

Malaga 2-2 Granada

In a battle of teams fighting for La Liga survival, Granada came from behind to steal a draw at Malaga. The home-side was leading 2-0 until Granada tallied twice in the final ten minutes to take a huge point for the club. Malaga remains glued to the bottom of the table, while Granada is currently out of the drop zone on goal differential.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Levante 0-1 Real Betis
Las Palmas 0-2 Deportivo
Celta Vigo 2-1 Sporting Gijon
Getafe vs. Villarreal (Sunday, 6 a.m. ET)
Eibar vs. Real Madrid (Sunday, 10 a.m. ET)
Rayo vs. Athletic Bilbao (Sunday, 12:15 p.m. ET)
Sevilla vs. Valencia (Sunday, 2:30 p.m. ET)

PL Sunday Preview: Spurs host Chelsea; Liverpool take on Swansea

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 01:  Diego Costa of Chelsea pulls on the shirt of Harry Kane of Spurs during the Capital One Cup Final match between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley Stadium on March 1, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Week 14 of the Premier League wraps up on Sunday, as four more matches take place across England.

[ MORE: PL Saturday roundup ]

Saturday’s action saw 25 goals from six games, so we should be in for a good day of football.

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Chelsea 7 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra

Unbeaten in 12 league matches, Tottenham will look to extend that streak to 13 in a London derby against Chelsea. Last season’s fixture between these two sides at White Hart Lane was arguably the match of the season, as Spurs stunned Chelsea in a wild 5-3 win. Harry Kane bagged a brace in that match, and with his current form, he’s likely to tally again on Sunday. Kane has scored in six straight matches for Tottenham, grabbing nine goals over that span. While Spurs have been one of the hottest teams in the league, Chelsea have won two straight and this match could be a turning point in their season.

West Ham vs. West Brom  — 9:05 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra

After a strong start to the season, West Ham have gotten just one point from their last three matches. The Hammers have struggled Dimitri Payet out injured, and now face a West Brom side that is very stout defensively. For West Brom, the Baggies are looking to build on a big win over Arsenal last weekend, as Tony Pulis has his side quietly creeping up the table.

[ RELATED: Should struggling Newcastle sack Steve McClaren? ]

Liverpool vs. Swansea City11:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra

A big match up at Anfield, as a struggling Swansea City side are in desperate need of a result against Liverpool. The Swans have just one win in their last ten matches in all competitions, and have fallen down to 14th on the table. Garry Monk‘s future at the club have come into question, but a result at Anfield would change that tune quickly. For the Reds, a dominant 4-1 win over Manchester City should have given Jurgen Klopp‘s side a huge confidence boost, as the German boss has lost just one of his nine matches in charge.

Norwich City vs. Arsenal11:15 a.m. ET online via Live Extra

A win would put Arsenal back in the top-three, as the Gunners travel to Carrow Road for a match against Norwich City. Arsene Wenger‘s men dropped their last Premier League match at West Brom, but rebounded nicely with a midweek win over Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League. For Norwich, the Canaries have been struggling and sit just two points above the drop. They’ll look to squeak out a point against Arsenal, who haven’t won in the league since Halloween.

Bundesliga wrap: Bayern win, USMNT’s Johnson leads Gladbach

Leave a comment

Catch up on all of Saturday’s action from Germany, as Bayern Munich continue to dominate the Bundesliga.

Bayern Munich 2-0 Hertha Berlin

Another day in the Bundesliga, another win for Bayern Munich. Goals from Thomas Mueller and Kingsley Coman gave Bayern an 11-point gap at the top of the table, as the Bavarians are yet to lose through 14 matches. Even more impressive, Pep Guardiola’s men have a ridiculous goal differential of +37.

Hoffenheim 3-3 Borussia Monchengladbach

United States international Fabian Johnson scored twice for Gladbach to help his side come back for a 3-3 draw against Hoffenheim. Johnson opened the scoring in the 5th minute and added the game’s final goal in the 87th to help extend Gladbach’s unbeaten run to nine matches.

Werder Bremen 1-3 Hamburg

Werder Bremen’s struggles continue, as the club dropped a league-high ninth match this season. In the 103rd Northern derby, Hamburg jumped out to a two-goal lead before the break and added a third in the second half to ease to a 3-1 win.

[ RELATED: Premier League Saturday roundup — Man City go top ]

Elsewhere in the Bundesliga

Darmstadt 0-0 Koln — Scoreless draw at the Bollenfalltor Stadion
Hannover 4-0 Ingolstadt — Clinical Hannover cruise at home
Mainz 2-1 Eintracht Frankfurt —
Eintracht drop third straight
Borussia Dortmund vs. Stuttgart —
Sunday, 9:30 a.m. ET
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Schalke —
Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET
Augsburg vs. Wolfsburg —
Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET


Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Bayern Munich 14 13 1 0 42 5 37 8-0-0 5-1-0 40
Borussia Dortmund 13 9 2 2 36 18 18 5-1-0 4-1-2 29
VfL Wolfsburg 13 7 3 3 23 15 8 6-1-0 1-2-3 24
Mönchengladbach 14 7 2 5 28 22 6 4-1-2 3-1-3 23
Hertha BSC Berlin 14 7 2 5 18 17 1 4-1-1 3-1-4 23
Hamburger SV 14 6 3 5 17 18 -1 2-2-2 4-1-3 21
FSV Mainz 05 14 6 2 6 20 20 0 4-0-4 2-2-2 20
Bayer Leverkusen 13 6 2 5 17 17 0 3-1-2 3-1-3 20
FC Schalke 04 13 6 2 5 17 19 -2 3-2-2 3-0-3 20
1. FC Köln 14 5 5 4 15 18 -3 2-4-1 3-1-3 20
FC Ingolstadt 04 14 5 4 5 10 14 -4 2-1-3 3-3-2 19
Darmstadt 14 3 6 5 14 19 -5 1-4-3 2-2-2 15
Eintracht Frankfurt 14 3 5 6 18 22 -4 1-3-2 2-2-4 14
Hannover 96 14 4 2 8 17 24 -7 2-0-5 2-2-3 14
Werder Bremen 14 4 1 9 14 28 -14 1-0-6 3-1-3 13
VfB Stuttgart 13 3 1 9 17 31 -14 2-0-5 1-1-4 10
FC Augsburg 13 2 3 8 17 25 -8 1-1-5 1-2-3 9
1899 Hoffenheim 14 1 6 7 15 23 -8 0-4-3 1-2-4 9

VIDEO: Humble Jamie Vardy speaks on scoring in 11-straight games

Leave a comment

Jamie Vardy made Premier League history today, scoring in his 11th-straight match in Leicester City’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United.

Despite breaking a record that stood for 12 years, the Leicester City striker didn’t look too fazed in his post-match interview.

[ WATCH: Vardy breaks record ]

Speaking after the draw, Vardy said his record-breaking run hasn’t really sunk in yet. While the supporters at the KP were chanting “Jamie Vardy’s having a party,” the 28-year-old will be going home and “chilling,” rather than going out to celebrate.

Vardy said he’ll be back at work to train on Monday, and is already looking forward to next weekend’s match against Swansea City, where he’ll have a chance to extend his record.