LVG: Europa win can be Reds' redemption
Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal has admitted the club's most likely route to next season's Champions League is to win the Europa League.
United's 2-1 defeat at struggling Sunderland in Saturday's early kick-off left them six points adrift of the teams ahead of them before the bulk of the latest round of fixtures, and a top-four finish via the Premier League now looks a distant possibility.
Indeed, Van Gaal, who has spent recent weeks fending off speculation that Jose Mourinho is being lined up to replace him, believes they may have to look elsewhere for their golden ticket with their Europa League campaign resuming in Denmark against Midtjylland on Thursday evening.
He said: "It will be very difficult. It is still possible, but it is very difficult. 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."
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."
Van Gaal's misery was completed by the loss of full-back Matteo Darmian, who will be missing for several weeks after dislocating a shoulder.