[Champions League] Manchester United 3-0 Olympiacos
ManUtd: Robin van Persie (25pen, 45, 51)
Robin van Persie netted a hat-trick to inspire Manchester United to a thrilling 3-0 victory (3-2 on aggregate) over Olympiacos and send the Reds through to the Champions League quarter-finals.
Not since 1984 – indeed, 30 years ago this week – had United turned around a two-goal first-leg deficit in Europe. But on Wednesday, in front of a raucous Old Trafford crowd, van Persie’s treble ensured David Moyes’ maiden European voyage remained on course for Lisbon and gave United fans a thrilling night to remember.
But while the Dutchman will deservedly dominate the column inches, David De Gea's stunning double save on 40 minutes – first from David Fuster's bullet header and then Alejandro Dominguez's follow-up at the near post – proved just as pivotal.
Nobody would have blamed the Spaniard had either effort found the net but he saved both brilliantly to preserve the 1-0 lead earned when van Persie had earlier opened the scoring from the penalty spot. Five minutes after De Gea’s double denial, in first-half injury time, RvP swept home Wayne Rooney's cross from close range. United were 2-0 up, level on aggregate and, crucially, in possession of the momentum and confidence that would ultimately carry the Reds to victory.
Van Persie sealed his hat-trick just six minutes into the second period, curling home a free-kick from 25 yards that had Olympiacos goalkeeper Roberto fooled, rooted to the spot.
There were then nervy moments to endure, particularly when De Gea was called into action again at his near post to beat out Dominguez’s blast, but the Reds held on to claim a famous victory.
The match A “chalk and cheese” display from the game in Athens two weeks ago. Here at Old Trafford, the Reds were fluid in attack and showed the fighting spirit we’ve come to expect on these big European nights. Although the Greek side fashioned the first clear-cut chance and should have gone ahead, there was a feeling, once Robin van Persie’s penalty hit the back of the net on 25 minutes, there was only going to be one winner.
The goals Van Persie won and converted the penalty (firing the ball to Roberto’s left) that gave United the lead on 25 minutes. He was similarly clinical and composed in first-half injury time when he side-footed Wayne Rooney’s low cross through the goalkeeper’s legs from close range. The hat-trick came via a free-kick, hit past the wall rather than over or around it, to complete a memorable treble.
Star man It’s hard to look past van Persie but there were also strong contributions from David De Gea (more on that below), Danny Welbeck, Antonio Valencia and Ryan Giggs. Rooney worked his socks off, too, while the back four dealt well with the Greeks' counter-attacking threat.
Sub-plot Recent results and sub-par performances had led to questions about David Moyes’ future in the pre-match press conference. This win – and United’s subsequent progression to the Champions League last eight – will surely put that speculation to bed.
The opposition While Olympiacos never really looked like winning, they didn’t have to. One goal would have made life extremely uncomfortable for the Reds and they employed counter-attacking tactics that almost paid off. Indeed, David Fuster should have put the Greek side ahead on 15 minutes. Had that gone in, it could have been a completely different story…
Move of the match Giggs’s vision was a treat in the first half, particularly some of his long, angled passes, but it was De Gea’s double save on 40 minutes that was key. Without it, Olympiacos would have levelled the scores. Instead, the Spaniard showed cat-like reactions to repel Fuster’s header and then thrust out his right leg at the near post to stop Alejandro Dominguez’s follow-up. To cap it all, a minute later he had the presence of mind to launch a long goal-kick upfield.
In the stands Old Trafford was as loud as it’s been all season, as United fans roared the Reds towards victory. From the opening whistle the fans played their part and, when the full-time whistle blew, the noise was deafening. Relief has never sounded so loud.