Make or break for Olympiakos

Olympiakos traveled to Manchester yesterday fearing that defeat in their Group G Champions League match would have a catastrophic effect on the club. We know that to lose would be catastrophic for us, coach Takis Lemonis told local media ahead of tonight’s match against Manchester United at Old Trafford. The Greek champions have contested the Champions League for the last five seasons but have only once made it beyond the first group stage in 1998. We are going to England to battle. It is a football match where everything is open. In a match like this, you need heart and soul, said Lemonis. Olympiakos claimed their first win of the opening phase at home to Lille in their previous match and lie joint third on four points, two behind United. The Piraeus club fired their coach in the wake of Champions League exits in both of the last two seasons. Forty-one-year-old Lemonis was promoted to replace Yiannis Matzourakis when the club dropped into the UEFA Cup after finishing third in their Champions’ League group. Even if we win, we still haven’t qualified, said Lemonis. Because there’s still another match to play at home to Deportivo La Coruna, he added. United have lost their last two matches, 3-2 to Deportivo last Wednesday in the Champions League and 2-1 to Bolton on Saturday at Old Trafford in the Premier League. They beat Olympiakos 2-0 in Athens earlier this month. Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson has told his error-prone team to adopt a safety first approach for tonight’s match. United needs to beat Olympiakos at Old Trafford to avoid having to win at Lille in its final Champions’ League Group G match. They may be without skipper Roy Keane, who is extremely doubtful with a knee injury. With most of the goals we have conceded, we could have done other things with the ball. As an example, and not just to mention Wes (Brown), look at the second goal at the weekend (Bolton). Wes had time to head the ball and at the last minute he elected not to head it. So it’s things like that where we say safety first and keep the ball away from our goal. We do like to play football and we believe in playing from the back all the way to the front, Ferguson’s assistant, Jim Ryan, said yesterday. United will make six changes to the side that lost to Bolton as Ferguson continues his rotation policy – despite Ryan admitting the alterations in personnel could be affecting the team. There may be something to that, Ryan added. We’ve thought about that but it’s well established you need a squad to play European games, FA Cup games and league games. That brings a problem that you need the squad players to play games in order to be any good to you when they come in. It’s a cleft stick. If the squad players have not played all season and you throw them into a European Cup final, they will not be good for you. Midfielder Nicky Butt, who is expected to stand in for Keane if the Irishman fails to recover in time, revealed it can be hard to make the step up from a squad player role. It is difficult for so-called squad players to come in and perform, Butt said. But our training is designed to keep us sharp and on top of our game. Butt feels that whatever side United use, the players are convinced they can qualify for the next stage of the competition. There is no lack of confidence here, he said. You won’t find a squad of players that are as confident as our lads. Maybe that causes us to overdo it when we are playing. But we know if we perform as well as we can do, we can go out and beat anyone in the world. (Reuters)

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