Manchester United might be struggling in the Premier League but they're cruising along quite nicely in Europe, and thanks to finishing in first place in Group A, they've been handed a relatively straightforward draw in Olympiakos. But that's not to say that the matches will be a formality for United -- Olympiakos made it out of the groups after a vicious dogfight against Benfica, and they'll be no pushovers here.
Olympiakos is one of Greece’s most successful clubs and something of a regular presence in the Champions League. While they’ve never gotten farther than the quarterfinals of the tournament, this is the seventh time they’ve advanced past the group stages. Olympiakos’ fans are passionate, loud and highly intimidating, making a trip to the Karaiskakis Stadium not one that most teams look forward to.
The Greeks squeaked into the Round of 16 thanks to a final day with over Anderlecht that allowed them to advance past Benfica on a tiebreaker. Their league form is a bit more impressive with the Thrylos dominating the Greek Super League with a 13-1-0 record and an eight point lead over PAOK Salonika.
Key player: Kostas Mitroglou
Olympiakos is led by forward Kostas Mitroglou who was the team’s leading scorer in the group stages with five goals. Verteran playmaker Javier Saviola will also be an important player if the Greeks hope to reach the quarterfinals for the first time since 1999.
Manchester United’s season so far has been one of few highlights and many lowlights, though the relative ease with which they passed through a Champions League group filled with potential banana skins is a saving grace for manager David Moyes. The Red Devils may be in the midst of a horrible start to the Premier League campaign though they’re still unbeaten in continental competition, picking up massive wins over Bayer Leverkusen home and away, as well as seeing off Real Sociedad and Shakhtar Donetsk at Old Trafford. However, having already dropped way out of contention for the league title and having seen the huge cracks in their midfield exposed, it’s highly unlikely that United will be able to progress much further in this competition. Despite a number of transfer market flaps they failed to address their key weakness in the summer; not helped by Marouane Fellaini emphatically failing to justify his £27 million price tag thus far. United are in a big mess, and it's hard to see them escaping any time soon.
Key Player: Wayne Rooney
Though Robin van Persie has been United’s key player since moving from Arsenal last year -- and the single biggest factor behind their title win last season -- he has been off-form so far this campaign, not helped by a string of injury troubles. Only his strike partner Wayne Rooney has been anything like impressive for United this campaign, and is currently their top scorer. In a team which has struggled so much, the continuation of Rooney’s hot streak could well be the difference between them making the quarterfinals and being eliminated in the round of 16.
Key Matchup: Giannis Maniatis vs. Michael Carrick
If Olympiakos want any hope of going through against United, they'll have to win the midfield battle. Fortunately for them, winning the midfield battle against Manchester United isn't actually that difficult. Michael Carrick is a solid, dependable player but far from a midfield general, and if Giannis Maniatis can outwork him over two legs, Olympiakos will be in fairly good shape.