Van Gaal kidding himself, says Richard Buxton
Like a besieged totalitarian regime, United boss continues to relay message that everything is rosy
ROUND OF 16, SECOND LEG
MAN UNITED 1
(Anthony Martial 32-pen)
(Philippe Coutinho 45)
- Liverpool win 3-1 on aggregate
Defeat and delusion continue to go hand in hand for Manchester United.
Just as night follows day, Louis van Gaal carries on regardless in his pursuit of the improbable.
Not even Europa League elimination by Liverpool yesterday morning (Singapore time), the latest chapter in a season of nadirs, could dampen the Dutchman's unstinting belief in his own, ailing abilities.
Knocked out of yet another competition, he remains steadfast that reaching the Champions League is still viable.
Little could be further from the truth. A pitiful and disjointed Round-of-16 exit to United's arch-rivals closed off what was undeniably their most attainable avenue for re-entry.
Like a besieged totalitarian regime, van Gaal continues to relay the message that everything is rosy in the gardens at the Theatre of Dreams.
Plenty have tuned out to that particular message.
Even if they were so inclined, United's panic button has already been worn down to a nub this season.
With 10 minutes remaining, supporters were streaming for the exits at Old Trafford yesterday.
That they had waited that long before resigning themselves to defeat was a greater testament to the club's time-honoured mantra of "never say die" than it was to their manager's principles of pragmatism.
Lacking firepower, the 64-year-old turned to his bench and plumped for two fullbacks and a defensive midfielder in an attempt to remedy a three-goal deficit.
Among them, Antonio Valencia had yet to feature in five months while Bastian Schweinsteiger remains the emblem of all that is currently wrong with life at Old Trafford.
A penny for Sir Alex Ferguson's thoughts as he looked on from the directors' box at United opting for safety-first rather than throwing caution to the wind.
The opposite would have been Ferguson's go-to method, particularly when chasing the game against the old enemy.
In truth, the legendary Scot would never have allowed things to deteriorate to the stage his beloved club now find themselves - forced to fight for scraps in a losing battle to retain their relevance in the domain where they were once pillars.
Van Gaal's 150th game in European club management looks set to be his last, and United's, on the continental stage for some time.
Champions League qualification remains a mathematical possibility via the English Premier League, but the reality suggests otherwise.
Four points off the pace in the table, tomorrow's Manchester Derby has become a must-win if van Gaal is to preserve what faint hope remains on that front.
Defeat by Manchester City would leave them facing a seven-point shortfall to bridge in their remaining eight games.
The consolation prize of the Europa League will not save the man formerly known as "King Louis" and could be similarly unattainable, should West Ham extend their current gulf to five points.
Van Gaal's only saving grace lies in Southampton and Liverpool potentially nullifying each other in tomorrow's encounter between the sides - offering breathing space from the chasing pack.
Even if fortune smiles on the United manager, his philosophy threatens to kill those hopes in their tracks.
Vying for success on multiple fronts, of which van Gaal proudly boasted last week, has rapidly disintegrated into just one.
Lose their FA Cup quarter-final replay with West Ham next week and the remaining weeks of United's season will become a total write-off.
Van Gaal sees it differently.
Of course he does - it is what fallen figureheads do best.
By the numbers
Manchester United have won only one of their last six games in Europe.
Anthony Martial has scored in back-to-back games for Manchester United for the first time since last September
I am not angry, I am not frustrated. I was very proud of my players. They gave everything and I was very pleased the fans recognised that. They applauded after the match despite us being out... We have to beat City and we have a chance to still qualify (for the Champions League)
- Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal
I think we started the game very well and we pressed them... You could see that they started to crumble, but it was unfortunate we conceded just before half-time and (then) it was a real battle on our hands.
- Manchester United defender Chris Smalling
I’m saddened by what I’ve seen from United over the last year or two. It’s like a bunch of strangers have been thrown together... Some of these players look like they’re shrinking with the jersey on.
- Former Manchester United captain Roy Keane