Fans of the world’s most popular soccer club this season have had very little reason to cheer, but Manchester United may have solid reason for optimism after their recent form in the Champions League. Players putting in below-par performances, goals being conceded at a significant rate, and their position in the Barclays Premier League being considerably lower than most people are used to. It really has been a miserable few months for manager David Moyes, but Wednesday’s match has provided a glimmer of hope for this season’s ultimate outcome.
Going into the match against Olympiakos, trailing the Greek side by two goals on agregate, Man United’s chance at silverware looked bleak at best. In a sense it still does, but the manner in which they overcame the deficit created by their previous match might just give them the confidence boost they need to push on. Success in the Champions League might go a long way toward making this season appear a success, as in previous years under the stewardship of Sir Alex Ferguson, despite the poor showing in the Premier League.
A hat-trick from Dutch striker Robin Van Persie consisted of a penalty, a side-footed finish, and a free-kick that should undoubtedly have been stopped by Olympiakos keeper Jimenez Gago. This Champions League effort ensured Manchester United fans left Old Trafford with good cheer, something they haven not been able to do nearly as much as they would have liked in recent months.
The Premier League title is realistically improbable. The club is eighteen points adrift of leaders Chelsea on the Premier League table. The FA Cup and Capital One Cup are physically impossible, the club having been knocked out by Swansea City and Sunderland respectively in those contests. Man United now only have the Champions League to look at with optimism. With reigning champions Bayern Munich still in the mix, along with Spanish giants Barcelona and their local rivals Real Madrid, going on to win the competition will not be an easy prospect; not easy, but not impossible either.
Previous recent successes in the tournament , in 1999 and 2008, have been well-fought and against the odds, so long-serving players like Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney will be well prepared to do things the hard way, but frailties do still remain. Some believe that this is down to the fact that current manager David Moyes has never won a major trophy in his career, though in the first year of his tenure it is hard to point at that as the only reason.
The quarter-final draw is to be made on March 21, and in it the remaining teams will discover who they will have to defeat in a two-legged tie in order to reach the semi-finals. The last time the Red Devils got to the this stage in the competition, they went on to reach the final at Wembley, eventually losing 3-1.
The season is far from over, and until the proverbial fat lady sings, belief will still be high among the most hardened of supporters that Captain Namanja Vidic will lift a trophy before the end of the season in May. Right now, the majority will still be reveling in the outstanding comeback achieved by Manchester United Wednesday, and the notion that Champions League victory still provides them with reason for optimism in an otherwise cheerless season.
Commentary by Zachary John C