Maybe for one night only but David Moyes finds the United of old
Giggs made a fair case he should have made more than 12 starts since August
Manchester United manager David Moyes celebrates after his team’s 3-0 victory over Olympiakos at Old Trafford last night.
For one night – and maybe one night only – David Moyes relocated the old Manchester United. Here was the team that comes at opponents in a blur of red and terrorises them with their attacking prowess.
The goal that set events in the right direction for Moyes, who had never been more in need of a result, came when Ryan Giggs floated a sublime ball on to the chest of Robin van Persie. He was brought down by Jose Holebas and the referee Bjorn Kuipers pointed to the spot.
In the moment it took the Dutch official to do so, Moyes danced around as if stamping out a fire. When Van Persie slotted the penalty he ran back and lifted his arms to urge the roaring congregation to raise the decibels higher. Moments later Patrice Evra flung himself at a Van Persie corner and nearly scored.
It was that kind of evening. Moyes had promised United would rise again and here was evidence that the beleaguered 50-year-old could get a reaction from his team. Antonio Valencia raced around like the winger of a few seasons ago; Danny Welbeck discovered an extra yard of pace and an ability to spin opponents; and Wayne Rooney was once more the whirling team totem, the closest to Roy Keane the club has had since the Irishman departed nine years ago.
Before this Champions League last-16 second-leg tie, Moyes said: “We will leave nothing behind tonight, we will give it our all and hopefully that will be enough to get us through.”
Yet, though his team drove forward with the menace and purpose of old, the defence left much to be desired when Olympiakos fashioned their own attacks.
After 15 minutes Joel Campbell, who had scored in Athens, left Phil Jones trailing and turned the ball across the area for a chance that Hernan Perez should have buried.
Later, Campbell split the home rear-guard with a pass to Leandro Salino and the visiting right-back should have punished United. The goalkeeper David De Gea, not for the first time in this troubled campaign, had to make several smart saves with his hands and feet.
For a game that had been billed in some quarters as crucial to his job prospects Moyes had fielded an XI that featured both Giggs (40) and Rio Ferdinand (35).
If this hardly smacked of a grand plan to overturn the 2-0 advantage with which Olympiakos arrived at Old Trafford, the display of Giggs belied it. To the pass that created the opening goal, the Welshman added a second killer ball on half-time that found Rooney, with the England international’s pass to Van Persie and the Dutchman’s cool finish suggesting the pair can operate together.
While Ferdinand’s inclusion was forced by Nemanja Vidic’s groin injury the selection of Giggs still appeared to be a crystallisation of where this season has gone wrong for Moyes.
For the Scot to drop his headline summer transfer, the €30 million Marouane Fellaini from Everton, for a player in his fifth decade for the biggest night of his career seemed an admission of the folly of buying the Belgian in the first place.
With his performance Giggs’ made a fair case that he should have made more than 12 starts since August.
Those in search of a telling tactical masterstroke from Moyes to explain this display may still be looking.
The real difference was the high tempo of thought and execution that has been absent for most of this season.
But more importantly here was a rare occasion when the players appeared to believe completely in their manager. It is a sentiment that, after last night, could just catch on.