Louis van Gaal has backed his Manchester United side to overturn their two-goal deficit against Liverpool in Thursday’s Europa League last 16 second leg at Old Trafford, even if the Merseysiders grab an away goal. Goals from Daniel Sturridge and Roberto Firmino have put Liverpool in the driving seat to advance in one of the first ever European matchup between Europe’s two most successful clubs.
It means that an away goal for Liverpool at Old Trafford would leave their great rivals needing to score four times to progress to the quarterfinals. Having won 5-1 at home in the last round of the Europa League to overcome a first-leg deficit against Danish champions Midtjylland, Van Gaal believes they can again get the goals required.
“We have to beat them with 2-0, not with 3-0 because we can do that also in extra-time,” he said in his pre-match press conference. “Then we have to beat them to get to the next round. But first, two-zero. You know that we have scored goals within three or four minutes this season, so it is possible.
“We don't want to concede a goal. We are thinking only of making goals. We have done that against Midtjylland in the last round. We don't want to concede, but if we do, we can score four.”
The match will represent Van Gaal’s 150th in European competition over a distinguished career. But he will be all too aware that it could be his last if Manchester United fail to get the result they need. Defeat would close off one route to next season’s Champions League, while a loss to Manchester City on Sunday would effectively end their top-four hopes in the Premier League. Having already seen his future be the subject of much speculation, failure to get to the Champions League would in all likelihood spell the end for Van Gaal at Old Trafford a year before the end of his contract.
There are no such pressures for his counterpart Jurgen Klopp. Just five months into his tenure, a place in the Champions League is not demanded but would certainly be a welcome bonus. The same is true of lifting silverware in his first season. And after agonizingly losing out on the Capital one Cup with a penalty shootout defeat to Manchester City late last month, Klopp will be especially keen to keep their hopes alive in the Europa League. And he appears to be particularly looking forward to making his first trip to Old Trafford as Liverpool boss.
“Hopefully it's a good atmosphere,” he said, according to the Liverpool Echo. “I like it, even when everyone hates you. It's not a problem. It's just loud too. I don't understand what the crowd are singing so it's pretty easy for me.
“In Liverpool it was different from the first second onwards. That's right. But if we had played poorly I am pretty sure it wouldn't have been too easy to have the same atmosphere over the whole 95 minutes. We will decide how good the atmosphere here is with our performance.”
Klopp could have to go into the match without Alberto Moreno, after the Spanish left-back suffered a hamstring problem in Liverpool’s training session at Old Trafford on the eve of the contest. Van Gaal, meanwhile, has suggested that Bastian Schweinsteiger still lacks the fitness to play from the start, although Manchester United do have Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Ashley Young back in training.
Kickoff time: 4:05 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox Sports 1