David Moyes and Manchester United remain bullish for Olympiakos tie

• Manager believes United can win Champions League
• Wayne Rooney says strikeforce is working hard in training

From David Moyes and his Manchester United players the message is clear: no one is giving up on the Champions League. Wayne Rooney, Darren Fletcher and Nemanja Vidic all echo the manager's bullishness that a fourth European Cup is not beyond United despite the side standing sixth in the Premier League, 11 points from qualifying for next season's contest.

To tout themselves as able to win a tournament that includes the holders, Bayern Munich, who are more formidable this year, and the gilded Barcelona team of Lionel Messi, Xavi and Neymar, sounds fantastical. Yet this is a cup competition and Moyes spoke at the weekend of "doing a Liverpool", who triumphed nine years ago as underdogs, while Chelsea in 2012 also somehow pulled off the trick of lifting the trophy when deeply unfancied.

United's quest continues in the last 16 at Olympiakos on Tuesday evening. Of the first leg of a highly winnable tie, Moyes said: "It's such a big game for us."

In Saturday's 2-0 win at Crystal Palace there were encouraging signs that Moyes was finally starting to get it right. Adnan Januzaj, Juan Mata, Rooney and Robin van Persie all started in the XI for the first time and impressed. There was a fluidity and cutting edge that suggests United could soon again be beating teams regularly.

After the game Vidic answered the Champions League question by saying it was the chance to do "something special". Rooney, fresh from signing his new £300,000 a-week deal and hitting a memorable volley against Palace, said: "Tuesday is a massive game for us. We want to be going into the quarter-finals of the Champions League. It'll be tough but we'll get the Palace match out of our system, prepare well and we'll be ready."

Of the Rooney-Mata-Januzaj-Van Persie understanding, the striker said: "We've been working hard in training on doing that. Making sure we keep the ball better around their penalty box and then trying to create chances. I thought we did it quite well. It can be better but I thought we did well and I'm really pleased."

With this frontline United have little concern when roving forward. The fault-lines are further back, starting in defence. At centre-half Vidic and Rio Ferdinand made a rare start together at Selhurst Park. As with the left-back, Patrice Evra, they impressed. Yet all three are in their 30s and creaking, while at right-back Rafael da Silva is having a patchy campaign.

Central midfield continues to be a conundrum, though it will be closer to being solved if Marouane Fellaini can consistently perform as he did against Palace. Operating alongside Michael Carrick, the Belgian produced his best display in a red shirt, making several runs into the area, as he at last appeared the part following injury troubles and the uneven start to his United career.

Suddenly, Moyes has options in this area, with the return of Fletcher a bonus after a long struggle with colitis. Now fully recovered, the midfielder says: "Being in the Champions League squad is a massive thing for me. It was nice when I saw that I had been named back in the squad. The manager felt I wouldn't be able to play a part in the group matches and so he never named me and that turned out to be true and now I am back playing.

"We are still in the Champions League and it is going to become massively important for us. We have a tough tie against Olympiakos and if we get through that anything can happen from there."

For reasons of suspension and form, Fletcher never made it on to the pitch in any of United's finals – 2008, 2009 or 2011. "I have unfinished business in the Champions League and it would be nice to finish that off," he says.

Because of that gap to fourth place, winning the continent's blue riband club competition might be the only chance United have of featuring in it again next season. Fletcher says: "It is going to be a challenge. We are in a position where it is a challenge. We have to win games. We are behind as it is. If the teams in front of us keep winning, then it is out of our hands. But all we can do is look after ourselves and get back to winning ways and get this club into the Champions League and finish the season on a good run.

"There is no doubt in the final league games we are going to have to put a run together to make sure we finish in the top four."

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