It was a big statement by Nemanja Vidic, delivered in the unlikely
surroundings of the Crystal
Palace car park, but the Manchester United captain was convinced his
team had just dusted off a road map to Champions League glory at Selhurst
“I believe that if we keep playing as we did here – solid and improve our form
again – we have a chance to do something good for the rest of the season,”
Vidic said. “That means fourth place and the Champions League.
“I believe we can do something special in the Champions
League. I really do.”
Having climbed into sixth position in the Premier
League for the first time since November with this 2-0 victory in
south London, courtesy of second-half goals from Robin van Persie and Wayne
Rooney, there could be a temptation to suggest the euphoria of progress had
gone to Vidic’s head with United preparing to fly to Athens on Monday for
Tuesday’s Champions League round of 16 first-leg tie against Olympiakos.
But with Rooney dictating play and scoring a stunning goal to put the icing on
his new contract and Vidic and Rio Ferdinand controlling the back four like
two gnarled nightclub bouncers, there was something of the ‘old’ Manchester
United about the performance against Tony Pulis’s team.
For once, the dice rolled kindly for David Moyes and his players.
Dominance and patience was rewarded on this occasion, rather than punished as
in previous fixtures, and of all the turning points United have encountered
this campaign, perhaps this will prove the one which really leads to better
But time is running out, both for United and Vidic, who has announced his
decision to leave Old Trafford when his contract expires in June.
Domestically, they have just 11 games in which to overhaul Liverpool in the
race for fourth place, while they will have to negotiate seven Champions
League fixtures between now and May if they are to claim the club’s fourth
European Cup in Lisbon.
It sounds the stuff of fantasy, but Liverpool and Chelsea can both point to
similarly remarkable Champions League triumphs in recent years and Vidic
insists he can leave United with that trophy in his hands.
“That would be great,” Vidic said. “We always believe we can do well, but we
know we have to improve in every game and I think we saw some signs here. To
win it you have to defend well as a team. This is the way you should play
and that is encouraging for us before we go to Greece.
“Olympiakos is a tough game away from home. It is hostile and difficult to
play there, but if we get a good result we can come back to Old Trafford and
finish the game.
“It is the only trophy we can win now, but we have done well in the Champions
League so far this season.
“If we play solid like we did against Palace and keep our shape, I think we
will be a hard team to beat.
“We always have people who can score goals and that is the way you play in the
Champions League – be hard to beat, but be able to score.”
Olympiakos, unbeaten domestically and 23 points clear at the top of the Greek
Super League, may offer a sterner test than Palace, but the home side
certainly tested United’s jaw before falling behind to Van Persie’s
David de Gea produced a series of saves, with Vidic and Ferdinand having to
resist the physical attributes of Glenn Murray and Marouane Chamakh, before
United’s superior quality told.
Adnan Januzaj and Juan Mata, in particular, offered evidence that they can
play in tandem, while Marouane Fellaini produced his best performance in a
United shirt since his £27.5m August arrival from Everton, despite wasting
an excellent chance with the scores at 0-0 by shooting high and wide.
Greater challenges lie ahead at home and in Europe, however, if United are to
make something of their season and prove that this victory was not just
another flash in the pan.
But Vidic retains the belief that both fronts can bear fruit in the final
weeks of the campaign.
“It is difficult because we are behind in the league and we just have to focus
on doing the best we can to get the fourth spot,” Vidic said.
“It is not going to be an easy task, but we play against Liverpool at Old
Trafford soon and I think that is going to be an important match for us.”