ATHENS: Manchester United made it three out of three – three defeats out of three matches played by English clubs, that is – as they slipped to a 2-0 defeat away to Olympiakos of Greece in Athens in their Champions League second round opener.
A poor United, who registered only one shot on target, fell behind when Alejandro Dominguez diverted home Giannis Maniatis’s effort before the break. Arsenal loanee Joel Campbell’s precise shot doubled the lead.
United came to life only in the last 10 minutes when Robin Van Persie fired their best chance over the bar.
Olympiakos lead the Greek Super League by 20 points, having won 24 of 26 games, in sharp contrast to their opponents’ increasingly forlorn Premier League title defence.
Olymipakos manager Michel had suggested before kick-off that United, whose best hope of passage into next year’s Champions League appeared to be winning this season’s, could fold under the pressure of knockout football.
United struggled from the outset. After Rio Ferdinand had misplaced a couple of passes, a last-ditch challenge from Nemanja Vidic only just ended Dominguez’s run after he had advanced into the area unchallenged.
Dominguez continued to orchestrate Olympiakos’s attacks from an advanced midfield role and with Juan Mata cup-tied, Adnan Januzaj left out of the match-day squad and Rooney frustrated by the referee and his own performance, the visitors lacked a similarly commanding figure.
So it was fitting that it was the Argentine who opened the scoring.
Maniatis’s trundling low shot posed little danger to United goalkeeper David De Gea, but Dominguez’s outstretched foot cleverly diverted the ball into the opposite corner giving the Spaniard too much ground to make up.
United, who had lacked energy and invention, showed slightly more purpose before the break, but could not create any clear-cut chances, goalkeeper Roberto dealing competently with the visitors’ crosses.
David Moyes’s half-time team-talk needed to focus players’ minds and change their tactics but neither was in evidence as Tom Cleverley knocked the ball out of play under no pressure soon after kick-off.
A goal down, the visitors had no room for further error and Campbell’s superb curling effort, after he slipped Michael Carrick’s flimsy challenge, threatened to cut them adrift in the tie.
Moyes introduced Shinji Kagawa and Danny Welbeck at the expense of Antonio Valencia and Cleverley, but it did little to change the momentum.
Borussia Dortmund, last season’s runners-up, appeared set for the quarter-finals after Robert Lewandowski scored twice in a clinical 4-2 win at Zenit St Petersburg.
Zenit offered free tea and pies to the visiting fans at the Petrovsky stadium and their players were equally generous as they repeatedly gifted possession to their Bundesliga opponents.
Dortmund grabbed two goals in the first five minutes through Marco Reus and Henrikh Mkhitaryan after Zenit, looking rusty as they started their first match after a two-month winter break, twice lost possession on the halfway line.
Although the hosts fought back with second-half goals from Oleg Shatov and a Hulk penalty, Lewandowski replied on each occasion, helped by some more mishaps in the Zenit rearguard, as he took his tally in this year’s competition to six.
The second leg on March 19 should now be a formality for last season’s runners-up against opponents who qualified for the last 16 despite mustering only six points in the group stage and were clearly out of their depth in the knockout phase.
“We were incredibly active and aggressive. It’s not easy to do that. The team put in a fantastic performance,” said Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp. “This was close to an optimal performance. We pressed to great effect against a dangerous team.”
Disappointed Zenit coach Luciano Spalletti said: “We conceded the two quick goals. It made a big imprint on the match and as a matter of fact decided the game. We made too many ridiculous mistakes and were punished. You can’t afford these kind of mistakes at this level against opponents like Borussia. If you do you pay a very high price.”