Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has told his players and the club’s supporters to believe they can successfully fight back from 2-0 down to knock Liverpool out of the Europa League and reach the quarter-finals.
United were outplayed by their arch rivals in last week’s last 16, first leg clash at Anfield, giving them an uphill battle to keep alive their hopes of winning the competition and qualify for next season’s Champions League.
But Van Gaal insists the lead is not insurmountable and hopes to repay United’s fans for a season of frustration at Old Trafford on Thursday as the Dutchman prepares for his 150th game as a manager in European competition.
“We have to believe in it,” Van Gaal said on Wednesday.
“It starts with the players of course but it starts also with the fans.
“They have a lot of impact on the pitch and I have spoken only with the players about the victory and we have to believe in it,” he insisted.
“We always owe to the fans a big result because the fans are paying to see that. We have to deliver.
“I am satisfied about the fans because the results we have achieved are not the results the fans are thinking we have to fulfil.
“We don’t fulfil the expectations and you see they support this team and this manager. But the most important thing is this team. We need their support because their impact is big. The atmosphere at Anfield was a big impact.”
United have never lost a home match in European football against English opposition and Thursday’s game comes a week before the 32nd anniversary of one of the greatest fightbacks in their history.
Trailing 2-0 to Barcelona in the European Cup Winners’ Cup, United, then managed by Ron Atkinson, won 3-0 on a famous night at Old Trafford to reach the semi-finals.
– ‘Old Trafford is different’ –
And midfielder Ander Herrera believes that despite United’s indifferent form — which has seen them fail to win any of their last three games — another comeback is possible.
Indeed, United’s recent record against the Merseysiders has seen them win their last two home Premier League meetings with an aggregate score of 6-1.
“Since I have been at Manchester we have played five times against them and won four times,” Herrera said.
“Two times we have played them at home, we won clearly. I think we were the better team. I think we have very good examples of the way we have to play.
“When we play at home we feel stronger. Tomorrow (Thursday) will be completely different. Old Trafford is different. The pitch is bigger, the grass is better. It’s another challenge for us and I think we’re ready.
“We want to make it a very difficult night for them. We are Manchester United and if they want to go to the quarter-finals they are going to have to fight a lot.”
Bastian Schweinsteiger is not expected to start, despite a positive late performance as substitute in United’s 1-1 FA Cup sixth-round draw with West Ham United last Sunday.
Winger Ashley Young has returned to training after almost two months out with a groin injury sustained in United’s 1-0 league win at Liverpool in mid-January but is not expected to figure on Thursday.