Olympiakos faces favorite Manchester United

Beleaguered by yet another poor showing so far in European competition this season, Greek soccer champion Olympiakos, which recently fired its coach Takis Lemonis, will need to make drastic improvements in its game if the side is to stand any chance of a respectable result in a do-or-die clash against Manchester United in Athens tonight. Olympiakos’s recently appointed coach Yiannis Kollias, who has led the national Under-21 team for many years, will make his competitive debut against Manchester United. The Piraeus side, which has won the last six Greek titles but failed to impress in Europe – except for one run to the quarterfinals – made a triumphant start in this season’s Champions League with a stunning 6-2 home win against last year’s runner-up, Leverkusen. Playing in Group F, the Greek side has since flopped with two heavy losses against Maccabi Haifa and Manchester United. With three wins out of three so far, one more point would probably be enough for Manchester United to book their place in the second phase. The group’s winner and runner-up advance. In his debut game as coach, Kollias will be without striker Alekos Alexandris, out with a hamstring injury. He will be replaced by Lambros Houtos, who returns after a series of ankle and knee injuries. Left back Stelios Venetidis has recovered from a knock picked up on international duty. Brazilian Under-21 international Edu Drasena is expected to make his full debut in midfield in place of suspended Ze Elias. In the Manchester United camp, several players will be forced to miss. Striker Ruud van Nistelrooy, out because of a recurring hamstring strain, said yesterday that he will miss tonight’s game and is aiming instead for Saturday’s league match with Aston Villa. «Obviously I want to play as soon as I can, but I spoke to the doctor, the medical staff and the manager, and they all say they want me fit for the rest of the season,» the Dutch striker said. «They do not want 90 percent but 100 percent and I think that is a good point,» he added. Teammate Nicky Butt stayed in Manchester with an ankle problem, and defender Rio Ferdinand is not expected to return from a knee operation until Saturday. During yesterday’s customary pre-match news conference, Manchester United coach Alex Ferguson chose to treat tonight’s opponent with respect despite United’s 4-0 thrashing of Olympiakos in their first clash. «It will be a very difficult game. I would be content with a draw,» said Ferguson. «Lemonis’s sacking came as a surprise to me because he’d led Olympiakos to great success. I think the team’s lineup will be hard to anticipate following the change.» (Combined reports)