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
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
Clarke Carlisle
sport
Sport
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
News
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
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

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there