Champions League or bust for Moyes & Manchester United

No more realistic trophy possibilities exist for last season's Premier League champions but the club can repay fans with victory on the grand stage; those big European nights
By Peter Staunton

There is no Premier League title to fight for. There is no FA Cup nor even the Capital One Cup any more. Manchester United are down to their last chance for a trophy; the Champions League. Every other avenue of success was shut off. All but this.

David Moyes now needs to be more than a presence on the sidelines who tells observers what is going wrong and makes promises to fix it. His tenure will not be defined by these two fixtures but United's season will be.

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"All they have left is to give their all against us in the Champions League," Olympiakos midfielder David Fuster said earlier this month. "This game is their only chance to save the season. They have failed in the league. They are located outside the Champions League places. And so they will give it all."

We know the mitigating circumstances. We know that the money the Glazers have taken out of the club means similar amounts cannot be put back in to reinforce the playing ranks.

We know that Ed Woodward's background is not in closing deals for footballers. We know that United's team is ageing and they have been struggling with form and injuries. We know, too, that some senior players are trapped in a responsibility vacuum. All of that, though, must all be forgotten now. It's Moyes's team against Michel's. Nothing more.

It has been a season of tempering expectations for Moyes and his players. Defeats have been plentiful, hefty and damaging. To this point United's most memorable results of the campaign have been the league loss to Manchester City, the FA Cup defeat to Swansea City and the Capital One Cup elimination to Sunderland. Running through the season, though, has been the positivity of the Champions League campaign.

"Everybody wants to win it and we’ll try to do it," Moyes told the club's official website. "I never said we would or we can but we’ll be in there. Teams don’t want to play Manchester United. They know what it stands for as they have been successful. I hope we can play well enough to get through this round and see what happens next."

United's football has not ripped up any trees on the continent but they are faring a lot better there than on the domestic front. Their lustre on home soil has faded and teams who once rolled over at Old Trafford are coming fancying their chances.

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Word of that perceived post-Sir Alex Ferguson vulnerability doesn't seem to have yet reached the European mainland. United qualified for the latter stages more impressively than many expected, winning well against Bayer Leverkusen twice and only conceding three goals in the entire group stage. 

For that, their reward is arguably one of the easiest ties available to them in the last 16. The challenge of Olympiakos will not be insignificant but United, legitimately, consider themselves favourites. They have to.

There are elements working in United's favour. Wayne Rooney has been given the fillip of a contract extension. Robin van Persie is working his way back from injury with ease. Olympiakos, in contrast, are facing a striker shortage. There is no Kostas Mitroglou of course, while Javier Saviola is injured and Marko Scepovic is ineligible. There will be a sterner challenge in the last eight, should United reach that stage.

Humiliation against those two lesser lights in the domestic cups compounded a resigned realisation that the league was beyond them. Those were forgiven by a patient group of hardcore supporters. But the Champions League shimmers in the distance for those coming to Old Trafford every week.

The goodwill towards Moyes and his players needs to be reciprocated with something that the fans can reach out and touch; those big European nights. Those homely victories on the grand stage. All roads lead to Lisbon.