Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal insists the impending derby against Manchester City could provide just the catalyst his side needs to prevent their season being over.
A 1-1 draw at home to Liverpool was not enough to prevent a Europa League last-16 exit on an aggregate score of 3-1 to leave the Red Devils fighting against the odds to qualify for the Champions League via their domestic form.
They trail City by four points and circumstance and coincidence takes them to the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.
“I hope City is the catalyst. We have to beat City and we have a chance to still qualify (for Champions League),” he said.
“There is always pressure. Expectations are very high so pressure for these players is always very high. We can cope with that but we were not lucky (against Liverpool).
“We had to recover from the West Ham game (last Sunday) and Liverpool had a week free and you could see that in the last 15 minutes and now we have the same against City.
“But we keep our confidence because Arsenal had the same benefit three weeks ago and we beat them also (3-2).”
Van Gaal insists he had nothing but pride in his players despite them failing to get the job done at home to their arch-rivals.
The concession of brilliant goal by Philippe Coutinho just before half-time, cancelling out Anthony Martial’s penalty, meant United had to score three more and that never looked likely.
“I am not angry, I am not frustrated. I was very proud of my players,” added Van Gaal.
In the second half we tried to raise ourselves out of disappointment but you know, the fans know, everyone knows we have to score three goals and that was more difficult
Louis van Gaal, Manchester United manager
“They gave everything and I was very pleased the fans recognised that.
“They applauded after the match despite us being out – that was remarkable I think.
“In the second half we tried to raise ourselves out of disappointment but you know, the fans know, everyone knows we have to score three goals and that was more difficult.”
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp hailed a “genius moment” from Coutinho to finally beat David de Gea, who prevented the result being much worse for United over the two legs.
“They got a penalty – it was a penalty – and Phil had a genius moment,” said the German.
“I love it two minutes before half-time because he twice reacted quicker than his opponent.
“It was the most unexpected that he could do in a situation like this.”
Klopp had wanted United before he was drawn against them but when asked whether he would now like to face former club Borussia Dortmund, the favourites, in the quarter-finals his view was different.
“Why should I want the strongest team in the next round – I’m not so silly?” he added.
“I saw only a bit of the other results but I am pretty sure there are no easy games so we have to be prepared.”
United’s exit began and ended on a distasteful note as a banner with the word ‘Murderers’ greeted visiting fans, some of whom were involved in scuffles at the end of the game.
The offensive message, subsequently removed by Greater Manchester Police, was tied to a bridge over the M602 in Salford on a route used by many Merseyside-based supporters heading to the game.
It also contained the date of the Hillsborough disaster, in which 96 Liverpool fans died at the FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest.
In the closing minutes of the game a minor scuffle broke out in the top tier of the East Stand when a handful of Liverpool fans, sat among home supporters, unfurled a club flag but stewards moved in swiftly to isolate the group to prevent a further escalation after a few punches were aimed at them by home fans.