Panathinaikos coach gives Manchester United hope
Anastasiou hands Moyes a boost ahead of crucial second leg with Olympiakos
If David Moyes needs some inspiration in masterminding a 3-0 win over Olympiakos, he could do worse than give Yannis Anastasiou a quick call.
Five days after Manchester United’s tepid first-leg capitulation at the Karaiskakis Stadium, the Panathinaikos manager watched his young side scattered with a few seasoned pros inflict a first league defeat of the season on the perennial Greek champions in their own backyard.
Not that Anastasiou, a former Ajax striker who spent last season working as one of Brian McDermott’s assistants at Reading, can remember much about Mehdi Abeid’s third goal after being hit by a by plastic cup filled with ice thrown from the crowd.
“For a moment I lost my sight completely and I couldn’t open my eye,” he said. “I was still trying to watch the match with only one eye but I couldn’t see clearly. For the last 10 minutes I didn’t know what was happening as I sat on the bench and it wasn’t until the next day that I saw the third goal on the television.”
It was the first time in seven years that Panathinaikos had tasted victory in the “derby of the eternal enemies”. But while United go into the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on the back of Sunday’s disastrous home defeat to Liverpool, Anastasiou had the benefit of two extra days to ready his troops for battle against the team coached by the former Spain international Michel.
“The most important thing is we were really prepared,” he said. “It was a fantastic performance because we absolutely dominated and scored three goals to win the game. We started our preparations four days before and worked as a group concentrating a lot on technical details – how Olympiakos play, what are their strengths and weaknesses.
“We tried to adjust our game accordingly by pressing high when they were in possession and taking a direct route when we had the ball. The team executed the plan very well but our physical fitness was very important in this approach. We said beforehand that the players will need to run and run and that is what they did.”
After losing again to second-placed PAOK the following week, Olympiakos wrapped up their fourth successive title on Saturday. They will go to Old Trafford as underdogs given the tendency of Greek sides not to travel well, although Anastasiou believes the onus will be on Moyes’s men to prevent them from reaching the quarter-finals for only the second time, having been narrowly beaten by Juventus at that stage in 1998/’99.
He added: “It will be a completely different game in Manchester because they are trailing by two goals. United definitely need to start very quickly because Greek teams can find the big difference in tempo when they play against Premier League teams very difficult to cope with. I would expect them to struggle with that. But United didn’t perform at all in the first leg so of course they have a very good chance to go through. It would be great for Greek football to have a team in the quarter-finals, even if they’re our big rivals.”