By Paul Clennam
There have been some contemptible performances from Manchester United already this season. Some gutless, lazy, insipid even. There has already been plenty enough to wear away the fans' early-season optimism, and enough evidence to suggest that this squad, this manager, are out of their depth.
But this, a 2-0 defeat to Olympiakos so devoid of character or fight that you were at times left wondering why the Premier League champions even bothered to travel, was as bad as memory allows.
After over a quarter of a century of absolute, relentless success at Old Trafford, you would think that the Schadenfreude from non-United fans would have taken a little longer to subside during this now absolute, relentless misery of a season but the joke – in every sense of the word - isn’t even particularly funny anymore.
Tom Cleverley didn’t so much concede possession as wilfully donate it to his hosts as an act of diplomatic goodwill. Robin van Persie touched the ball 12 times in the first half and then wasted United’s only real chance of the second by hammering it over. Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young ran down the wings time and again and then opted to embarrass themselves rather than cross the football.
Olympiakos, with all due respect to the Greek champions, played like a term worthy of the name. The Karaiskakis Stadium, bouncing and boisterous came spoiling for a fight but hardly deemed the 11 supposed superstars in front of them as worthy of wasting their energy on.
United will need to score three goals at Old Trafford in three weeks’ time if they are to progress further into a competition which houses far better, far more ruthless teams than the Greeks who outplayed them this evening. If this was an easy draw, the alternative doesn’t bear thinking about.
Conceding Dominguez’s deflected opener was typical of a side that isn’t playing well enough to earn its own luck, never mind stem the tide of misfortune that has been battering David Moyes and his side this term. Joel Campbell’s stunner for the home side’s second was a beautiful lesson in how to punish a team seemingly unwilling to defend with any semblance of organisation or intensity.
The occasional glimpse of brilliance from Nemanja Vidic and the introduction of the industrious Danny Welbeck will not make the four-hour flight from Athens back to Manchester any easier for United fans. The clouds are too heavy at the club to spot the silver linings.
Had Moyes rallied the troops rather than remained slumped on his bench as the hosts’ second breached De Gea and put United’s chances of progression in serious doubt, there could have at least been solace in knowing that all those at the club acknowledge that this simply isn’t good enough. Like his team, there wasn’t nearly enough forthcoming.
This will go down as one of the worst United losses in living memory. There have been heavier humiliations and perhaps more damaging defeats, but not for a long, long time has the club faced a crisis quite like this.
Michael Carrick faced the TV cameras at full time but couldn’t summon the words to admit that the players had let themselves down.
Let me do it for him: they have. And it is simply unacceptable.