Louis van Gaal aims for Europa League after Manchester United lose at Sunderland
Last Updated: 14/02/16 7:42am
Louis van Gaal admitted Manchester United’s best chance of qualifying for next season’s Champions League might be winning the Europa League, following defeat to Sunderland.
With the Premier League's top four sides playing each other on Sunday, United had the chance to make up ground on their rivals in the weekend's early kick-off at the Stadium of Light.
However, they were beaten 2-1 by the struggling Black Cats to remain fifth in the table, six points adrift of the top four, having played a game more.
United will now turn their attentions to the Europa League on Thursday when they go to Midtjylland for the first leg of their last-32 tie.
The winner of the competition qualifies for the Champions League, and Van Gaal thinks that might be more realistic than finishing in the top four in the league.
"It will be very difficult. It is still possible, but it is very difficult," said the Dutchman. "The way with the Europa League is easier, I think, but also not so easy because there also you have a fantastic European level in that cup, so you have to fight for it.
"You can easily say ' okay, the other way' - but also you have to show your capacity, in every match, you have to show it and we didn't do that today."
Anthony Martial's deft 39th-minute finish got United back on level terms at Sunderland after Wahbi Khazri's early opener, but they were undone when David De Gea could only help defender Lamine Kone's powerful downward header into his own net.
Van Gaal's position becomes more difficult with every setback, and he knows the consequences of failing to make it into the Champions League could be costly.
Asked if the club's presence in Europe's elite competition was the bare minimum, he said: "Yes - but that's also our aim, so you cannot close your eyes from that.
"Today it was very disappointing because we needed to win this game because of the big gap between the top four. We want to be there and now it will be very difficult."
United also suffered another injury setback in the defeat as full-back Matteo Darmian dislocated his shoulder.