David Moyes suffered another blow in a difficult season as Arsenal loanee Joel Campbell scored a stunning goal in Athens to leave Manchester United on the brink of an early Champions League exit.
Scorers: Olympiakos - Dominguez (38), Campbell (54)
Campbell has not kicked a ball for the Gunners since signing in 2011, but he showed superb quality to score the second goal in a relatively straightforward 2-0 victory for Olympiakos.
Alejandro Dominguez’s clever backheel put the Greeks ahead in the first half and, from then on in, Moyes’ team rarely looked like being able to get back into the first leg of this last-16 tie.
Wayne Rooney and Nemanja Vidic had talked up United’s chances of winning the Champions League in the build-up to the match, but it was easy to see why Moyes’ side were 25-1 shots to land the trophy going into this match in the Piraeus port suburb of the Greek capital.
Rooney worked tirelessly, as he always does, and Vidic put in a solid performance at the back.
But United’s midfield, as it has done for much of this season, looked awfully pedestrian for the majority of the match, which was played out amid a booming atmosphere inside the Karaiskakis Stadium.
Olympiakos, who are bidding to make the last eight for only the second time, made a mockery of the away side’s billing as favourites. And, without the cup-tied Juan Mata and Adnan Januzaj, who was overlooked, United were toothless in attack.
With United 11 points adrift of the top four in the Premier League, winning the Champions League may be the best way to get back into the competition next year, but they will have to win by three clear goals in the second leg on 19 March to make it through to the quarter-finals after this latest sub-par performance.
Olympiakos fans in all four corners of the stadium made their message clear to United from the warm-up – they were not welcome. The jeering started when the players came out for their pre-match drills and it did not stop for the rest of the night.
Patrice Evra went into the book in the second minute, when he handled Campbell’s cross. But just when United started to settle into a rhythm, Olympiakos opened them up.
Chris Smalling slipped and the ball made its way to Dominguez, who ran through on goal. Only a superb sliding tackle by Vidic saved United.
What followed was a tepid 20-minute period of play. United always took the safe option on the attack. Olympiakos pushed forward, meaning Rooney spent as much time in his own half as the opposition’s.
The only time United entered the home box, Van Persie was outmuscled by Kostas Manolas – a defender Moyes almost signed at Everton.
Tom Cleverley and Giannis Maniatis both had weak shots at either end of the pitch, but the overall quality of the game was poor.
The home crowd remained almost deafeningly loud, however, and the decibel level rose again as Hernan Perez cut in from the left flank and fired a powerful drive which a relieved David de Gea watched hit the side-netting.
The energetic Dominguez blotted his copy book by play acting while trying to win a penalty, but he soon redeemed himself in the eyes of the home fans when he cleverly put Olympiakos ahead. Maniatis took advantage of Evra’s weak clearance, driving at the United defence before unleashing a low shot which Dominguez diverted past De Gea with a clever backheel.
United hung on until half-time, but nine minutes after the break their troubles worsened as Olympiakos doubled their lead.
The finish – this time struck by Campbell – was another top-class effort. The Arsenal winger, who has spent time on loan at Real Betis and Lorient, just about kept his balance after nutmegging Michael Carrick and he then curled a stunning shot around Rio Ferdinand and the sprawling De Gea from 20 yards.
Moyes brought on Shinji Kagawa and Danny Welbeck but they could not make the difference.
United barely threatened thereafter. Van Persie slammed a shot into the crowd from inside the box, but that was about it.
Olympiakos wanted the win more so they were not going to yield as easily as the away side had done earlier.
Olympiakos: Roberto, Leandro Salino, Manolas, Marcano, Holebas, Maniatis, Ndinga, Campbell (David Fuster 67), Dominguez (Paulo Machado 76), Perez (Haedo Valdez 85), Olaitan. Subs not used: Megyeri, Samaris, Papadopoulos, Bong Songo.
Manchester Utd: De Gea, Smalling, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Cleverley (Kagawa 60), Carrick, Valencia (Welbeck 60), Rooney, Young, van Persie. Subs not used: Lindegaard, Giggs, Hernandez, Buttner, Fellaini.