It is 11pm in Estadio da Luz on May 24, Marouane Fellaini’s injury-time header
has just secured a fourth European Cup for Manchester United and ‘Are you
watching Merseyside?’ is ringing out across Lisbon.
David Moyes, having been at his depths of his despair just four months earlier
as United suffered double cup exits at Old Trafford against Swansea City and
Sunderland, is waving the European Cup around the pitch and lifts it aloft
when he spots Sir Alex Ferguson in the VIP seats.
Once again, Manchester
United have pulled off the unthinkable and won club football’s
biggest prize to confirm their participation in next season’s competition.
Meanwhile, back in Liverpool, silence descends on Merseyside with the pain of
United edging one closer to their five European Cups being dwarfed by the
hammer blow of Moyes’s team snatching away their passport back into the Champions
League after five years in the wilderness.
Ok, so that is the outlandish, fantasy scenario being played out by United
supporters ahead of tonight’s Champions League last 16 first-leg against
Olympiakos in Greece.
Languishing in sixth place in the Premier League, 11 points adrift of
fourth-placed Liverpool, the chances of United sneaking into the top four
this season are remote.
More remote, even, than the prospect of Moyes’s players overcoming the odds to
actually win the Champions League this season.
This is what United’s woeful season has now come to. Relying on a Champions
League miracle to secure their place in the competition next season.
Still, if they can achieve that and deny Liverpool at the same time, many at
Old Trafford would take that option right now.
In fairness to Liverpool, there is every chance that Brendan Rodgers’ team
will finish much higher than fourth, and perhaps even win the title itself,
so they are unlikely to be losing too much sleep at the prospect of United
emulating their unforgettable 2005 triumph in Istanbul when Rafael Benitez’s
team did precisely what United need to do now – win the Champions League
having finished outside the top four.
Chelsea have also proved that teams struggling in the Premier League can stun
Europe by winning the Champions League, with their 2012 triumph over Bayern
Munich in the Allianz Arena coming after they trailed in sixth in the
In recent days, Nemanja Vidic, Wayne Rooney and Moyes have all talked up
United’s chances to salvaging their season with Champions League glory.
Vidic points to United’s defensive solidity and the goal threat of Rooney and
Robin van Persie as key ingredients to Champions League success.
Rooney, meanwhile, has cited Chelsea’s win two years ago as proof that
miracles can happen.
In 2005, Liverpool did not fluke their Champions League success.
They overcame a tough Juventus team, Chelsea at the height of their powers
under Jose Mourinho and a formidable AC Milan in the final in Turkey, having
fought back from 3-0 down at half-time.
The madness of that victory in Istanbul often overshadows the victories prior
to that and also adds to the myth that this was a Liverpool team that really
should not have been there.
But Benitez’s team had Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher at their peak, the
seasoned experience of Dietmar Hamann and Sami Hyypia and a young Xabi
Yes, it also had Harry Kewell, Milan Baros and Djimi Traore, but it was a good
team, make no mistake about that.
And two years ago, Chelsea also won it the hard way, beating Barcelona over
two legs in the semi-final and then Bayern in their own stadium.
Roberto di Matteo may not have had the strongest Chelsea team in history, but
it contained the likes of Petr Cech, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba – three
names that will always be Stamford Bridge icons.
So can United emulate Chelsea and Liverpool?
To win it this season, they will undoubtedly have to overcome the kind of
opposition that Chelsea and Liverpool defeated.
It would be unthinkable for United to progress to Lisbon and win the
competition without having to beat at least one of Bayern, Barcelona or Real
Current form suggests they cannot overcome such illustrious opponents, but
2005 and 2012 prove that strange things can happen.
And when Moyes looks at his squad, a roll call of names including Vidic,
Rooney, Robin van Persie and Patrice Evra would stand comparison to those
teams selected by Benitez and Di Matteo.
But United certainly have a mountain to climb if they are pull this one off.
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