David Moyes might be able to breathe a little easier tonight.
On a night where Manchester United faced elimination from the Champions League competition at the hands of the Greek champions Olympiakos, it was last year’s hero, Robin van Persie, who stood up to be counted. The Dutchman bagged a hat trick to put the hosts through to the quarterfinals with a 3-0 win.
Of course, scoring goals often seizes the headlines. But in truth, it was the man between the sticks, David De Gea, that was every bit, and maybe even more so, important. It was the Spaniard’s double save against Alejandro Dominguez in the first half that kept Moyes’ squad in the tie.
Van Persie sent the Old Trafford crowd into jubilation from the penalty spot in the 25th minute. It was his striking partner Wayne Rooney that provided the cross for the second goal in stoppage time of the first half.
If that result held, United would have at least forced extra time with a 2-2 aggregate scoreline. But given the defensive frailties of their defense this season, the danger of an away goal still loomed.
In the best interest of those sporting red on Wednesday night, van Persie took matters into his own hands and gave the reigning English champions the lead with a well-executed free kick into the left hand side of the net that left the goalkeeper rooted.
Evergreen midfielder Ryan Giggs had a massive role to play with his incisive passing that unlocked Olympiakos on more than one occasion. The 40-year-old icon made good on his rare start.
The last 10 minutes were anything but comfortable for those singing in the Stretford End. The Greek side, determined to pull off a famous result of their own, piled on the pressure.
But this time, Manchester United were up to the task preserving De Gea’s clean sheet, and for the moment, relieving the intense pressure on the first-year manager.
He’s certainly not out of the woods yet for this campaign with domestic performances that are unacceptable at a club of this stature. For the moment, though, his team is still alive in Europe’s biggest competition.
Olympiakos team: Jimenez Gago, Salino (Machado 74’), Holebas, Ndinga, Manolas, Marcano, Perez (Valdez 57’), Maniatis, Campbell, Dominguez, Fuster (Vergos 82’).
Manchester United team: De Gea, Rafael, Evra, Giggs, Ferdinand, Jones, Valencia (Young 77’), Carrick, van Persie (Fellani 91’), Rooney, Welbeck (Fletcher 82’).
Goals: Van Persie (25’ (pen), 45’, 51’)
Aggregate score: Manchester United 3-2 Olympiakos