It's do or die for ailing Man United
STILL reeling from their humbling by Liverpool, Manchester United return to Old Trafford today needing to overturn a 2-0 Champions League deficit against Olympiakos to save their season.
Sunday's 3-0 loss to Liverpool left David Moyes' side 12 points below the top four in the English Premier League and, having already exited both domestic Cups, the Champions League represents the last chance for salvation.
Notions of the club qualifying for next season's Champions League by winning the current tournament appear fanciful, but elimination in the last 16 today would suck all intrigue from their campaign.
Succeed, and United will take their place alongside Europe's most glamorous sides in the quarter-finals, three years after last reaching the last eight en route to defeat by Barcelona in the 2011 final.
Fail, and the unwanted consolation of a Europa League place will be all that is left to play for; a fraught summer of soul-searching all there is to look forward to.
United were synonymous with stirring comebacks under Moyes' predecessor, Alex Ferguson, but they require a vast improvement on the insipid showing produced against Liverpool.
Worryingly for both United's supporters and the club's hierarchy, the team's performances appear to be getting worse, despite strikers Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie both operating at full capacity now.
They offered disconcertingly little resistance in the first-leg loss to Olympiakos in Piraeus on Feb 25, but goalkeeper David de Gea has promised an improved showing in the return fixture.
"We know we didn't play a good match in Greece. They were better than us and they won," the Spaniard told the Uefa website.
"But now, there is the return leg at Old Trafford and I think that, with our fans behind us, we have to go onto the pitch and fight and attack from the first minute.
"We will give everything we have and play a lot better than we did there."
United have recovered from a first-leg deficit only once in the Champions League era, atoning for a 2-1 loss to Roma in the quarter-finals of the 2006-2007 tournament with a stunning 7-1 victory at Old Trafford.
They twice overturned 2-0 scorelines in the now-defunct European Cup-Winners' Cup, however, beating Tottenham 4-1 in 1964 and storming back to beat Barcelona 3-0 in the quarter-finals in 1984.
Moyes, whose side won all three of their home matches in the group phase, agreed with de Gea, insisting: "The players are capable of turning it around. It's something to go for, it's another game, and we'll do everything possible to make that work."
He has good reason to be optimistic. Olympiakos are giants at home - they secured a 41st league title on Saturday - but are far less assured on their travels. More significantly, they have lost on all of their 11 previous visits to England.