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Roy Keane asks “Where are the characters, where are the leaders in this group”?

Another tournament exit but this one will hurt more than the other few. Manchester United were eliminated from the Europa League by the long time rivals Liverpool. Being 2-0 down going in the second leg, United started off the game exactly how they would have liked to, going ahead on the back of Anthony Martial’s penalty. But there were lot of chances that went begging and which could have turned the game on its head. Eventually the players were left ruing these missed chances as Phillipe Coutinho scored the decisive goal on the brink of the first half whistle.

This meant the Untied would have to score three more in order to progress. But what followed in the second half was not what the supporters would have liked to see. The players showed a lot of fight in the first 15 minutes but then just gave up. David De Gea was probably the only player giving his 100 percent right till the very end. The performance this time around was a lot better than the first leg, but that was not a difficult level to beat. In spite of all the positives in the first half, the game ended up being a big fat dose of pessimism. It could have been a lot worse if not for the Spanish Dave and James Milner felt the same way too.

“Both teams had chances, we didn’t play as well as we did in the first leg but we did enough. Their goalkeeper had a good game and made some saves.”

The German manager too thought the same about the United number one.

“It was nice and intense. You could feel the atmosphere again. They tried to play really offensive, but we had our chances, it was Liverpool v De Gea. He was unbelievable again.”

This doesn’t hide the fact, however, that United have now been eliminated from Europe for the second time in around three months time and that calls for some serious intervention. David Pleat, the former Tottenham boss, launched a scathing attack on Louis van Gaal, while also warning the Red supporters about the repercussions.

“Louis van Gaal came in talking of philosophy and the players having to adapt. They have played patiently, with too many passes. It is difficult to play a possession game nowadays as you are crowded out. You have to a bit more direct, as Leicester have proven this year.

“Supporters will think that LVG is betraying the attacking traditions of the club. It was always difficult at Old Trafford but they have lost that fear factor. Once you are out of the Champions League it is difficult to get back into it.

“I can only see it getting more difficult for Manchester United. It goes in cycles.”

The manager has always been the target of criticism for the former Manchester United midfielder Paul Scholes. But he also thought that the players in the current squad are simply not good enough and a few who were let go, could have very well walked in to the team. HE said:

“Danny Welbeck should never have been allowed to leave this club. He was here from nine years old, he could play on the wing or up front. He is quick, strong and can score a goal. He would walk into this team now.”

While his former captain Roy Keane was left searching for the real leaders. He expressed his disappointment post match saying:

“I am really saddened by what I have seen of United over the past one or two years. Where are the characters, where are the leaders in this group?”

The man of the hour, for all the wrong reasons, Van Gaal, felt his players gave it all, during the game and the goal at the end of first half did not do much to improve their morale too.

“It is very disappointing. We could have the chance, that is the feeling in the dressing room. We have created enough chances to win and we know that when you attack in this way that Liverpool has counter chances. The way that we conceded that goal, at half-time they were all so disappointed. If we don’t concede that goal I think it was possible.”

He felt that the fans recognised the player’s dedication and applauded them off at full-time. This might not be entirely true but it depends on each individual’s perception. Van Gaal for certain thought it was for appreciating the players.

“They gave everything. More than everything. I am pleased that the fans saw that and gave them applause at the end.”

The manager also spoke about the second half chances, which were far less than what was seen in the first half. In fact United had just one shot on target, that too a simple shot directed straight at the keeper by Fellaini. This doesn’t fit in well for a team that had to score three in 45 minutes.

“In the second half we had chances. Fellaini with his head and his foot. But you have to score three goals and that is not too easy.”

The Dutchman felt that playing too much in the week hampered their performances but did not want to attribute the loss to the lack of luck again.

“Liverpool had a free week but we had to play West Ham United. We also needed a little bit of luck but if you say that as a manager it is not good.”

Van Gaal also did not shy away from appreciating the brilliant Coutinho goal, in spite of that goal being the one, potentially dragging them out of Europe.

“You have to give credit to Coutinho. It was a fantastic action. We can also say that we had fantastic actions.”

If the fatigue is one of the factors, it might play its role again as United will be playing their city rivals on this weekend. When asked about it, the manager reacted saying

“We have to cope with it. We have to recover again after this match. The players have given everything – more than everything, I think – but still we have to play against Manchester City and they have one [recovery] day more. But that was also the case against Arsenal and we beat them, so we have to believe in it.”

The former Netherlands national manager and United both are walking on thin ice at the moment. Considering the team’s recent form it now looks a very difficult struggle to the top four but the team has to keep the belief that they can do it. However, the team are only a slight wobble and a couple of defeats away from kissing the season good-bye in all its entirety. The only positive for United right now is the equally poor run of form of two teams above them; Arsenal and Manchester City. If United were to finish top four it would have to be with help from these two teams and that probably says it all about United’s season; depending on other teams to fail for them to, not win the league, but to reach top four. Not what the fans are used to, but is the sad truth. Can United string together something – it all looks bleak right now, but lets hope they do!

Written by Chinmay Padhye

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