Wayne Rooney declared on Monday night that Manchester United could take heart from Chelsea’s Champions League triumph in 2012 – a year when their poor domestic form left them sixth in the Premier League, the spot United currently occupy – and raised the prospect of his side also going all the way to another final.
Rooney, who said he could not contemplate the idea of lifting Europe’s elite trophy only once, said United could match the west London side’s achievement in Lisbon on 24 May. “The year Chelsea won, they nearly went out of the competition three times, so you have to keep going whether we get the right result or not,” Rooney said.
Liverpool finished fifth in the Premier League when they won the Champions League in 2005.
The Olympiakos coach, Michel, said that he sensed a weakness and uncertainty in United that made them ripe to exploit, ahead of the two clubs’ last 16 first leg in Athens tonight. “We know Manchester United are not allowed to make any mistakes due to their position in the English Premier League and we have to say probably this kind of situation may weigh too much on their players’ shoulders,” the Spaniard said.
The Greek Super League is one of the weakest in Europe – 12th in the Uefa coefficient table – but the 20-point lead Olympiakos have opened at the top of it sends them into tonight’s tie brimming with confidence.
The United manager, David Moyes, has new-found ammunition to counter with: the totemic influence of Rooney and Robin van Persie in harness – tonight playing their fifth successive game for the first time since last April. The pair have never played more than five consecutive games for United and their continued fitness does have the potential for United to begin firing at last.
The club have lost only twice on the 36 occasions the two have started together in the past two seasons, winning 26 of those games. It was more than the customary press conference propaganda when Moyes said of the two that “they score in the big games and make the big moments”.
Olympiakos v Manchester United match preview
For Moyes, United’s European campaign has provided an escape from the often desperate business at home. His side were undefeated in the course of winning their group – and have won on their last three visits to Greece.
The manager would not say the tournament was an opportunity to put a gloss on the season, refusing as he always does to look publicly beyond the next game. But Rooney did hold out the notion of Europe triggering something better.
United must make good on Rooney rights
“As a group of players we have to take responsibility for the league position we are in,” he said. “We know we are better than that. We haven’t performed as well as we can do and it hurts when as a team you know you can do better. It’s most important that we finish the season strong, get that fourth spot and progress far into the Champions League. That’s important to us all.”