Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal insists he is “proud” of his team and thinks they were “not lucky” after the Red Devils were thrown out of the Europa League by Liverpool.
United drew the second leg of the last-16 tie 1-1 at Old Trafford, which meant they had to endure a 3-1 defeat on aggregate, leaving the Dutch manager ruing several missed chances.
They, however, gave an encouraging display before the break, cutting the aggregate deficit to 2-1 as Anthony Martial scored from a penalty, but all the hopes have vanished when Philippe Coutinho mesmerized with a stunning away goal for Liverpool.
Van Gaal later admitted: “I’m not angry. I’m not frustrated. I was very proud of my players. They have given everything. The fans applauded at the end and that was remarkable.
“We played like Liverpool did in the first leg. We created a lot of chances and scored a penalty — and then you concede one goal in the last seconds of the half. That’s what we did not do in Liverpool; they scored an away goal and that was a difference. A difference was also how the teams felt in the dressing room at half-time.
“You try to raise them from the disappointment but everyone knows you have to score three goals and that is more difficult.”
The under-pressure United manager was also left bemoaning the lack of preparation time for his boys, with this fixture taking place only four days after the FA Cup quarter-final draw at home with West Ham. The gruelling schedule is something which he has addressed repeatedly in recent times.
Van Gaal further said: “Liverpool had a week free. That’s a big difference and you could see that in the last 50 minutes. Now we have the same problem against Manchester City [in the Premier League on Sunday]. But we keep confidence because Arsenal had the same benefit and we beat them.”
The league match against Manchester City has now become a higher-stakes contest, because Premier League is the only way for van Gaal and his boys to qualify for the Champions League next season, after this Europa exit. The target is quite clear – finish in the top four — but the fact is that they are four points behind fourth-placed Manchester City — so the increasing pressure on van Gaal has intensified more.
When he was asked about the growing pressure after this latest result, he replied: “The pressure was also today. Manchester United has always pressure. The expectations are very high. The pressure for these players is also high. We know that and we can cope with that, but we were not lucky today.
“When you take the risk to press so high and be so aggressive, then you know also that you can have counter-attacks. Liverpool — [Daniel] Sturridge, [Adam] Lallana and Coutinho — are very fast and handy players. You take that risk.”
The Dutch tactician also had to face questions about his mysterious tactical changes when Manchester United were chasing the game in the second half, but he defended his decisions by saying “tiredness” of players was a major factor in those.
At half-time, he substituted Guillermo Varela with Antonio Valencia. Then made like-for-like changes, as Matteo Darmian came on the pitch for Marcos Rojo and Bastian Schweinsteiger replaced Michael Carrick. United’s only attacking option on the bench, Memphis Depay, was surprisingly ignored.
Van Gaal justified: “You can always discuss after the match when it is not like everybody wants, but you never know how it would develop.”