Louis van Gaal
Louis van Gaal and Juan Mata shared a smile during preparations for Manchester United's key Europa League match on Thursday. Getty Images

Louis van Gaal has called for his Manchester United players to put in a “hungry” and “horny” performance in the second leg of their Europa League Round of 32 tie against Danish champions Midtjylland on Thursday. A poor display in Denmark a week ago means that United will go into the return match at Old Trafford needing to overturn a 2-1 deficit.

Having already been dumped out of the Champions League at the group stage, neither United nor Van Gaal will want to contemplate a second early exit from European competition this season. And in preparation for a crucial night, he has disclosed his somewhat unusual worlds of motivation.

“The word desire is fantastic,” he said at his pre-match press conference. “We need desire, hunger and a lot of times I use the word horny to my players.”

Juan Mata, sitting beside Van Gaal, greeted the words with a slightly embarrassed smile. But the Spaniard’s contribution is likely to be key on a night when Manchester United will be missing a number of players due to injury.

David de Gea remains out with a knee problem picked up in the warm-up for last Thursday’s first leg, and captain Wayne Rooney is similarly sidelined. That duo adds to an injury list that already includes Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Luke Shaw, Marouane Fellaini and Phil Jones. There is also a doubt over Chris Smalling, who failed to train on Wednesday after suffering a knock in Monday’s FA Cup clash with Shrewsbury Town.

United came through that fifth round with a 3-0 victory over their League One opponents to temporarily ease some of the pressure on Van Gaal. However, that relief will be short-lived if his side fails to come through on Thursday. Defeat would end one of United’s two possible routes to next season’s Champions League, and leave them requiring to overturn a six-point deficit to the top four in the Premier League.

For Midtjylland, the match presents a chance to follow up the finest result in their short history with one arguably even more memorable. Only founded in 1999, the club won the Danish Superliga title for the first time last season and have already made it further than ever before in European competition. And sporting director Claus Steinlein states that the team is determined to go further.

“If we beat Manchester United over two legs, it will be a bit of a miracle,” he said, according to Uefa.com. “Now we believe we can beat them and I'm sure we will go there and do it.”

While a victory over one of the biggest clubs in the world would be an improbable achievement, Midtjylland have a strong record on their limited visits to England. As well as earning a 1-1 draw with Southampton en route to progressing past the Premier League side last August, Midtjylland also went to Manchester and beat United’s neighbors City 1-0 in a 2008 Europa League qualifier.

Match time: 3:05 p.m. EST

TV channel: Fox Sports 1

Live stream: Fox Sports Go, Fox Soccer 2Go, ESPN3