Olympiacos manager Michel believes Manchester United could buckle under pressure when the two sides meet in the white-hot cauldron of the Karaiskakis Stadium tonight.
United sit 11 points adrift of the Premier League’s top four, meaning the best possible route back into the Champions League could be through winning the competition.
With the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid still in the Champions League, that could certainly prove to be a tall order.
And although Olympiacos look weak opponents on paper, the 28,000-strong home crowd will do everything they can to make United’s well-paid stars uncomfortable.
Michel, who won the Spanish league six times with Real Madrid, believes the importance of the game could have a bearing on United’s performance.
“We know there’s lots at stake for Manchester United,” the Spaniard said. “We know United are not allowed to make any mistakes due to their position in the Premier League and we have to say probably this may weigh too much on their players’ shoulders.
“It could be an incentive to them or it could be a burden. People say it’ll be a very demanding tie and that’s true. They are favourites, but nothing says we can’t beat Manchester United.”
Michel has every reason to be optimistic about his team’s chances of pulling off a shock win. The Greek side came through a challenging group containing Paris St Germain, Benfica and Anderlecht.
In domestic competition they are also enjoying a stellar season.
Olympiacos are top and unbeaten in the Greek Super League and have only lost twice at home in the league in four years.
Michel’s preparations for tonight’s game took a hit on Saturday, though, when top scorer Javier Saviola was ruled out with a thigh injury.
Having sold Kostas Mitroglou to Fulham in January, and with fellow striker Marko Scepovic cup-tied, Olympiacos only have one registered frontman who is fully fit in 21-year-old Michael Olaitan.
Mystery surrounds the availability of January signing Nelson Valdez. “He’s alive and that’s all I am telling you,” Michel said with a smile when asked about the fitness of the Paraguayan.
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