Manchester United v Olympiakos - comment: United's reputation has dwindled so much under David Moyes, Europe's minnows no longer fear them

A Different League: They always used to score in the nick of time, but now they are conceding in the last second

Listening to Cesc Fabregas earlier in the season was an education on what it has been like for everyone else in the Premier League trying to wrestle trophies away from Manchester United over the last 20 years.

The Barcelona midfielder was answering questions about his former club Arsenal's chances of winning the title and was asked about the possibility that this year United would not be one of the Gunners' rivals for the Premier League championship.

Without taking breath, he set off on the kind of monologue he would have heard, and delivered himself, during his time in London, many times before. "With Manchester there is always talk about a dip and yet they always end up there [at the top]. Always. Ten years ago I arrived in England and I've been saying for those 10 years, 'Look out, this year Manchester might have a dip', and in the end they are always there or thereabouts. It is a battle that I have given up on long ago. Whenever anyone says to me Manchester United won't be the same this year, I say, 'No, no, no, Manchester will be up there for sure.'"

If United do come back against Olympiakos and draw Barcelona in the next round, Fabregas's rhetoric is likely to be very different. Respect is one thing, but the reality of nine league defeats has taken its toll on United's reputation abroad.

"We're better than Fulham," one member of Olympiakos's coaching staff told me ahead of the first leg, after one of the worst teams in England's top flight took a point from United at Craven Cottage despite trailing going into injury time. Everyone knew the crown would slip post-Sir Alex Ferguson, but no one expected the fear factor to evaporate so quickly.

Follow our live blog of the match here

Former United goalkeeper Roy Carroll, who is now with the Greek champions, summed up the surprise at the change in the team's personality: "United always used to score in the last second and now they are conceding in the last second; it's not the first time they have done that. You would expect them to shut games down, especially when they are coming back from 1-0 down to score two goals in seven minutes against Fulham. You'd expect them to win 2-1 but one long ball up front and it's a goal."

Carroll will have been relaying that message to his team-mates in the build-up to the game, just as coach Michel will be ramming home the message that there has never been a better time for Olympiakos to break their own reputation for being pushovers in Europe away from Athens.

"There will be between 4,000 and 5,000 Greeks in Old Trafford and they are incredibly noisy," says Michel. He has fought hard to change the club's mentality after years of being satisfied with topping a Greek League they are always expected to win.

"When we arrived at the club, we saw the need to change two things," Michel added. "We needed a change of mentality and habit that made winning the league our challenge but progressing further in the Champions League the real test of our evolution."

Michel has also always been positive about having the second leg away from home. "I prefer it that way because I think you maintain the level of concentration at a much higher level," he said before the 2-0 first-leg win.

Manchester United have been reminded this week of the last time they went into a quarter-final second leg with a mountain to climb. Almost 30 years ago to the day they faced Barcelona and successfully overturned a 2-0 deficit despite the visitors including Maradona in their team. Olympiakos don't have the world's best player but then neither are they likely to come with Barça's complacency. If they are undone it will be by a lack of nerve. And United's dwindling fear factor has made that less likely to happen.

Neymar's inactivity shows Barça's needs are elsewhere

One of the enduring images from Barcelona's 7-0 win over Osasuna at the weekend was of Neymar chewing gum on the substitutes' bench for the duration. If ever there was a game to prove Barça need not have spent so much on the Brazilian in the summer this was it, with Lionel Messi, Pedro and Alexis Sanchez all outstanding and Cristiano Tello coming on to score the game's best goal in the second half.

It's Neymar's first season and despite his recent dip, he will come good for Barcelona and probably be one of the stars of this summer's World Cup. Former president Sandro Rosell will argue that ultimately he will justify the outlay. Take coach Gerardo Martino to one side, however, and ask him if he'd swap him for a world-class defender, just for the run-in, and there would only be one answer.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Supporting role: at the Supreme Court, Rhodes was accompanied by a famous friend, the actor Benedict Cumberbatch
booksPianist James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to stop the injunction of his memoirs
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan
filmDheepan, film review
Sport
Steven Gerrard scores for Liverpool
sport
News
Tattoo enthusiast Cammy Stewart poses for a portrait during the Great British Tattoo Show
In picturesThe Great British Tattoo Show
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?