Manchester United v Olympiakos: Finally, some fighting talk emanating from Old Trafford

Patrice Evra delivers words of intent as David Moyes' men attempt to overturn two-goal deficit against Olympiakos

If this is to be Patrice Evra's final season at Old Trafford, then he is leaving Manchester United much as he found it.

When he arrived with Nemanja Vidic in the January of 2006, United were a bleeding and bewildered institution. They had returned from Lisbon having finished bottom of their Champions League group. The Chelsea of Jose Mourinho were streaking away with the league and, inside their great stadium, the revolt against the takeover by the Glazer family was gathering a furious pace. It was Sir Alex Ferguson's 20th year in charge and many imagined it would be his last.

He survived, he always did, but his successor does not possess the aura that comes with championships and European Cups. Unless he can avoid being knocked out of the Champions League by Olympiakos, David Moyes' future might be measured in days. Evra may have longer, though likely to leave in the summer, probably to join Vidic at Internazionale.

"It is not a good day to talk about my future because the most important thing is Manchester United's future, not mine," he said. "When I put on the Manchester United shirt I will give everything. No matter if I stay or leave, that is the most important thing. I want to show all my team-mates and the staff that they can count on me.

Follow our live blog of the match here

"It has been a difficult season for everyone. We are not used to losing games but everyone is going to fight for this club, everyone loves this club and in life you always have a second chance. I am not going to tell you we are going to qualify but I promise the fans will be proud of us after the game."

It was about time somebody talked like this. When Ferguson took his leave of Manchester United he demanded of the Stretford End that they back his successor, but you wonder whether he forced the same pledge from his players.

When the 1970 United squad was called together to be informed that Wilf McGuinness, a good football man wholly unable to fill the void left by Sir Matt Busby, had been sacked Brian Kidd rounded on his team-mates. "You bastards," he yelled. "You let him down."

Moyes has been betrayed by his players on an almost weekly basis and yet he has seldom given the impression that he understands the depth of the crisis that faces the biggest football brand in the world, who invited the cream of their sponsors to watch the abject surrender to Liverpool.

In his programme notes for Sunday's game, when United produced what even by their flimsy standards was the most gutless display of a disastrous season, Moyes wrote: "From what I see, positivity is growing every day around the AON Training Complex. What goes on there is completely different to what people perceive the situation to be at Manchester United."

It was Moyes as Marie Antoinette, breathtakingly out of touch with the reality beyond the barricaded, single-track road that leads to United's training ground. Now, with the enemy at the gates, there was a realisation that it was time for some frank talking. If Manchester United are to go out of the Champions League, Moyes thought they might as well go down fighting.

"The support inside Old Trafford has been phenomenal," he said. "The players will tell you that the first thing I mentioned [after the Liverpool game] was that we need to give something back – me and the team. We need to make sure we give them a night to remember. We will leave nothing behind."

Looked at coldly and dispassionately, Manchester United's task is not that daunting. Olympiakos have lost every one of the 11 games they have played in England. They are champions of a near-bankrupt Greek League. This is the supreme moment of a season in which they have seldom been tested and the danger is they may freeze.

Their manager, Michel, who had watched United's capitulation against Liverpool, smiled: "My players are afraid of nothing. I am a little bit more scared than they are but I won't be on the pitch."

The feeling among the Olympiakos players is that they would have to score to reach the quarter-finals. Simply protecting a 2-0 lead would not be enough.

Nevertheless, the image of Manchester United as a club that forever came back from the brink is somewhat misplaced. Only twice in their history have they overturned a 2-o first-leg deficit. Curiously, both times the year ended in a four and Ferguson was not in charge.

The last was in 1984, when a side driven on by Bryan Robson overcame a Barcelona that featured Diego Maradona at a fevered Old Trafford. Evra, too, has experienced it when France, ridiculed and written off, overcame Ukraine to reach the European Championship.

"We let the storm pass," said Evra. "It was a difficult day after the game, we didn't expect to lose 2-0 in Ukraine but after two days everyone was focused. We stood together and we played for the people who love us, our families and our fans. We gave everything.

"I am not someone to sit here and dream and say Manchester United are going to qualify but I believe we can overcome the situation and I think this team is good under pressure. But I've said too many words now. We have to show it on the pitch."

Old Trafford crisis: United's recent record

Man United have won just two of their last seven games:

1 Feb PL Stoke (a) L 2-1

9 Feb PL Fulham (h) D 2-2

12 Feb PL Arsenal (a) D 0-0

22 Feb PL Crystal Palace (a) W 2-0

25 Feb CL Olympiakos (a) L 2-0

8 Mar PL West Brom (a) W 3-0

16 Mar PL Liverpool (h) L 3-0

Upcoming fixtures

Wed CL Olympiakos (h)

Sat PL West Ham (a)

Tues PL Man City (h)

29 Mar PL Aston Villa (h)

5 Apr PL Newcastle (a)

20 Apr PL Everton (a)

Villas-Boas joins Zenit but misses Dortmund tie

Andre Villas-Boas, the former Chelsea and Tottenham coach, will take the reins at Zenit St Petersburg this week after agreeing a two-year contract, but will not be in the dugout for their Champions League trip to Borussia Dortmund.

Caretaker Sergei Semak will be in charge of the Russian side for the last-16 return leg, with Zenit trailing 4-2. Villas-Boas, who was sacked by Tottenham in December, is understood to have signed a deal worth €8.5m (£7.15m) per season.

Suggested Topics
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
New Articles
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering