Manchester United's chances of qualifying for next season's Champions League suffered a blow after they crashed out of the Europa League following their 1-1 draw against Liverpool in the second-leg of the last-16 tie. The Red Devils were unable to overturn the two-goal deficit from their first-leg loss at Anfield.
The 20-time English champions started the game well and went ahead in the 32nd minute though after Anthony Martial converted a penalty, but were pegged back at the stroke of half-time with Philippe Coutinho's delightful finish. United had a number of chances to get back in the game during the second half, but failed to convert their chances. The Dutch manager admitted that to score three goals was difficult, but rued his team's missed chances and pulled up a number of players for their lack of clinical finishing in front of goal.
"It is very disappointing because we had the chance – that's the feeling in the dressing room. We created enough chances – [Jesse] Lingard missed with his head, [Juan] Mata from eight metres, [Anthony] Martial also, but the way we conceded that goal, in the last seconds of the first half... If we didn't concede that goal, it was possible," Van Gaal told United's official site following the 1-1 draw at Old Trafford.
"In the second half, we also had chances – [Marouane] Fellaini with his head, with his foot. But you have to score three goals and that's not too easy."
United now face a crucial clash against Manchester City in the Premier League on 20 March as they look to make up ground on the teams above them in the hope of qualifying for the Champions League next season. They are currently in sixth place two points behind West Ham United who are on fifth spot, and four behind their weekend opponents.
Van Gaal is hoping his team can cope with the close proximity of games in recent weeks and put their best foot forward on Sunday. He has cited the Arsenal game, which also came two days after their clash against Liverpool in the first-leg.
"We have to cope with it. We have to recover again after this match. The players have given everything - more than everything, I think – but still we have to play against Manchester City, which is a more important game now because it's about qualification for the Champions League," the Dutch coach explained.
"And they have one [recovery] day more but that was also the case against Arsenal and we beat them, so we have to believe in it. We can do it but it's our fifth or sixth game in two weeks."