Manchester United fell to a 2-0 first-leg defeat in their Europa League Round of 16 tie against Liverpool at Anfield, with Louis van Gaal’s men having no answer for the Reds’ high press.
Liverpool put in one of their best pressing (and counter-pressing) displays till date under Jürgen Klopp, stifling arch rivals Manchester United whenever they were on the ball, and creating numerous opportunities to score from resultant counter-attacks.
The Red Devils’ goalkeeper David de Gea played a big role in keeping the scoreline to a relatively respectable 2-0, but Louis van Gaal acknowledged that his side were second best for much of the game.
Following the game, the Dutchman said (via manutd.com), “I have seen that we did not cope with the high pressure of Liverpool. For me, it was a surprise that we did not cope with it because they did it in the same way as the home match this year that we played against them.
“First they provoked that we could play the ball from David De Gea to Daley Blind or Chris Smalling and after that they gave a lot of pressure and we did not cope with that.”
Van Gaal also reserved praise for Belgian midfielder Marouane Fellaini, who was embroiled in an off-the-ball controversy after appearing to strike out at Emre Can with his elbow at the full-time whistle. The Red Devils’ boss claimed that he had not seen the incident.
“I have to say that Fellaini was one of the best players on the pitch,” said the 64-year-old. “I’m very sorry when he makes a mistake like that [alleged foul on Can not punished by the referee]. I haven’t seen it.”
Manchester United season hanging in the balance
The Red Devils have arguably the most crucial week of their season ahead of them. On Sunday, they take on West Ham United in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, followed by the return leg of their Europa League tie against Liverpool on Thursday.
A defeat against the Hammers on Sunday and a failure to overcome the 2-0 deficit on Thursday will effectively end their season, given that the FA Cup, and to a lesser extent now, the Europa League, are the only competitions Louis van Gaal’s men have a chance of winning.
Their uncertain form in the Premier League has made a top four finish extremely difficult, and should the Red Devils fail to qualify for next season’s Champions League, Louis van Gaal will almost certainly find himself out a job in the summer.