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Olympiakos vs United – October 10th 2001


October 10th 2001
Olympiakos 0-2 Manchester United

Olympiakos (4-2-3-1): Eleftheropoulos; Patsatzoglou, Bermudez, Anatolakis, Venetidis; Karembeu, Kostoulas; Giannakopoulos, Zetterberg, Djordevic (Alexandris, 81min); Giovanni.

Manchester United (4-2-3-1): Barthez; G Neville, Johnsen, Blanc, Irwin (Silvestre, 89); Keane, Veron (Cole, 80); Beckham, Scholes, Giggs; Van Nistelrooy (Solskjaer, 85).

The Guardian
Was Sir Alex Ferguson really thinking of leaving out David Beckham? We may never know but after all the talk he might be suffering from his England exertions, Manchester United’s most cherished asset provided some answers of his own last night.

After his stoppage-time intervention against Greece on Saturday, this was another example of his impeccable timing, showing why he is just as important for his club as he is for his country with the first goal of a hugely satisfying evening for Ferguson’s team.

His goal just after the hour, supplemented by a late finish from the substitute Andy Cole, means United have taken six points from their opening three games of Group G and, with two of their remaining three fixtures at Old Trafford, they will be confident their progress to the next phase will not be through the back door.

“Has he lost the plot?” a tabloid wanted to know yesterday and it certainly seemed mildly ludicrous that United’s manager had called into question Beckham’s physical and mental condition at a time when England’s captain must believe that, if he fell into the Manchester ship canal, he would come up with a salmon sticking out his top pocket.

Such is the pressure on Beckham’s shoulders there must be moments when he feels he is carrying around a rucksack of bricks but his performances have seldom dipped below excellent, in good times and bad, and Ferguson was probably playing psychological games.

Yet again the manager tried out a new formation here, mirroring the 4-2-3-1 system that is so often used by top continental teams, with Beckham, Giggs and Paul Scholes employed behind Ruud van Nistelrooy. Ferguson still seems uncertain about the best way to maximise United’s strengths but this, at least, meant that Roy Keane and Juan Sebastian Veron could offer their defence some much needed re-inforcement.

It was clearly Ferguson’s intention to stifle their hosts and frustrate the crowd. United have been to the Ali Sami Yen, the San Siro and Nou Camp but few places are as raucous or intimidating as this stadium, venue for the 2004 Olympics, when it is bulging at the seams with 70,000-odd fanatical Greeks.

Yet there were only a couple of times inside a frenetic first half when United’s vulnerability in defence – only Leicester and Middlesbrough have let in more goals in the Premiership – were exposed and both came from set-pieces rather than open play.

Fortunately for the visitors Stylianos Giannakopolous, first with a header and then with a volley saved by Fabien Barthez at point-blank range, could not apply the finishing touches to Predrag Djordevic’s expert free-kicks. The big scoreboard here had incorporated Jaap Stam in United’s line-up and, in those hairy moments when the visitors clearly needed some defensive leadership, it was tempting for thoughts to turn to the departed Dutchman.

That is not to say United were without a rudder. For long spells they had most of the possession and, had Veron not steered a left-shot wide after being teed up by Giggs, they would have gone into the break with the lead.

The start of the second half prompted the first concerted spell of pressure from the visitors, with Keane and Veron beginning to occupy more advanced positions and Giggs offering both width and penetration.

The movement of Ferguson’s players was causing more and more problems and midway through the half Beckham showed just why he could not be left out.

Elusive as ever, Giggs cut to the byline and his chipped cross caught the Greek defence static. Beckham needed no more invitation, darting in front of Bermudez to stab a shot in with the outside of his right boot. So Ferguson has not lost the plot.

Suddenly the Greek defenders were playing like strangers. Giggs had a header brilliantly saved by Dimitrios Eleftheropoulos and Blanc saw one flash narrowly wide. But every time United broke forward they looked capable of scoring and, two minutes after emerging as a substitute for Veron, Cole doubled the lead after 81 minutes, dissecting the Greek defence with clever interplay with Van Nistelrooy before slotting the ball home.

About Scott

Scott is the editor of Red Matters - 50 Years of Supporting Manchester United and an author of Play Like Fergie's Boys and Not Nineteen Forever. He writes for ESPN, The Metro and Bleacher Report. Follow @R_o_M on Twitter.

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  1. davidjoneslocker says:

    Nostalgia…No shitting but Becks was massive. Hoping tonight brings good memories for the future too. C’mon, you reds!!!

  2. Gary Mitrovic says:

    Must have been one of Andy Cole’s last goals for the club. I remember this game being moved after the attacks on the twin towers in New York. I was in Greece at the time as a 15 year old with my family and was looking forward to watching the game out there with United in town only for the game to be cancelled as a sign of respect.

  3. Gary Mitrovic says:

    I must admit I did find it a bit rich that sporting events and even certain programmes had to come to a half in the aftermath of 9/11 across Europe. While it was a shocking and sickening event it seems the world has to grieve for the United States. We might as well never play sports again when you consider the mass genocide in numerous African and Asian countries. I don’t remember the States postponing sporting events in their own country after the suicide bombings in Madrid and London. Seems we’re not too interested when hundreds of thousands of innocent people are being slaughtered in Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, Syria and so on. The United States government are truly despicable. 9/11 was a tragedy though because it was innocent normal people that died at the hands of fanatical brainwashed individuals. It’s always the innocents that end up dying.

  4. Ed-the red says:

    @ Gary, I wouldn’t premise myself on that to call the US government despicable. either I don’t think there is any customary international law dictum saying that after a terrorist attack in any city, sporting events should be post-poned. It is all a matter of logic, civility and to what extend such events have affected other areas or sometimes the likelihood that there might be a series of similar events elsewhere. In 9/11 there was great fear that the attacks might spread.

    Anyways, there is no doubting that Becks at his prime was massive.

  5. Gary Mitrovic says:

    They are despicable in general. Even recently they played whiter than white card when disarming Syria of their chemical weapons and then made life difficult for the Albanian’s because they wanted to destroy the weapons in Albania creating an environmental hazard. When Albania rejected much to their own surprise they played the PC Card in the public eye saying they respect their decision, but relations are clearly going to be strained from it. They blackmail nations into doing their dirty work for them.

  6. wayne barker says:

    Gary politics is never a good thing to get into but it was a UN resolution on Syria’s chemical weapons wasn’t an American decision so it wasn’t up to America to decide were to get rid of the weapons,also small countries helping out in any situation get well compensated.Since Obama has been President the States have taken a back seat in all conflicts and haven’t gone alone at all.Lybia was a coalition and Syria UN and why should it be on the States to sort out the mess in Africa every country should stand up and be counted.Anyway like i said really shouldn’t go down that route on a football blog,there’s been attacks since(Boston Marathon) 9/11 was different over 3,000 people not just Americans but people from all over the World worked in those towers and quite frankly i think most Western countries was coming to terms on what had happened and didn’t want anymore high jacking or disasters on their hands so were playing it safe


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