Still reeling from their humbling by Liverpool, Manchester United return to Old Trafford on Wednesday needing to overturn a 2-0 Champions League deficit against Olympiakos to save their season.
Sunday’s 3-0 loss to Liverpool left David Moyes’s side 12 points below the top four in the Premier League and, having already gone out of both domestic cups, the Champions League represents a last chance of salvation.
Notions of the club qualifying for next season’s Champions League by winning the current tournament appear fanciful, but elimination in the last 16 on Wednesday would suck all intrigue from their campaign.
Succeed, and United will take their place alongside Europe’s most glamorous sides in the quarter-finals, three years after last reaching the last eight en route to defeat by Barcelona in the 2011 final.
Fail, and the unwanted consolation of a Europa League place will be all that is left to play for; a fraught summer of soul-searching all there is to look forward to.
United were synonymous with stirring comebacks under Moyes’s predecessor, Alex Ferguson, but they require a vast improvement on the insipid showing produced against Liverpool.
Worryingly for both United’s supporters and the club’s hierarchy, the team’s performances appear to be getting worse, despite strikers Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie both now operating at full capacity.
United have recovered a first-leg deficit only once in the Champions League era, atoning for a 2-1 loss to Roma in the quarter-finals of the 2006-07 tournament with a stunning 7-1 victory at Old Trafford.
They twice overturned 2-0 scorelines in the now defunct European Cup Winners’ Cup, however, beating Tottenham Hotspur 4-1 in 1964 and storming back to beat Diego Maradona’s Barcelona 3-0 in the quarter-finals in 1984.
Moyes reported no fresh injuries after the defeat by Liverpool, although Spanish midfielder Juan Mata will drop out of the squad as he is cup-tied.
“The players are capable of turning it around,” said Moyes, whose side won all three of their home matches in the group phase.
“It’s something to go for, it’s another game, and we’ll do everything possible to make that work.”
Olympiakos’s first-leg success unexpectedly proved the catalyst for a downturn in their domestic fortunes, as they slumped to consecutive defeats – their first of the season – against Panathinaikos and PAOK.