We have to be more ruthless, pleads Rooney as shot-shy United’s Champions League hopes hang in the balance
Goalless draw at home to PSV means Louis van Gaal’s toothless team may have to win in Wolfsburg to go through
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal conceded he was “worried” about his team's goal-scoring problems after a goalless draw with PSV Eindhoven left their Champions League campaign in the balance.
Victory on Wednesday would have taken United into the last 16, but with Jesse Lingard blazing their best chance over the bar in the second half, they must now win away to Group B leaders Wolfsburg in their final match to be certain of a place in the knockout phase.
United have scored only six goals in their last eight games, four of which have been 0-0 draws, but while Van Gaal admitted to feeling concerned, he drew encouragement from the handful of chances his side had created.
“Of course I am worried, but I know also that goals are coming and going,” he told his post-match press conference at Old Trafford.
“It's not a consequence of good or bad performances. Today (Wednesday) we could have scored at least three goals. They were not the most difficult chances, but we didn't score.”
United captain Wayne Rooney, who returned from illness, complained afterwards that his team were “not ruthless enough” and Van Gaal concurred with the striker's evaluation.
But when asked to explain his team's shortcomings, the manager replied: “The real reason you never know.”
Wolfsburg are unbeaten in 29 home games in the Bundesliga, but United defeated them 2-1 at Old Trafford in September and Van Gaal believes that his side are more effective on the road.
“We are still second, so we are still on the qualifying position,” he said.
“We have won our home match against Wolfsburg, so why can't we win in Wolfsburg? And our away average is much higher than last year.”
United could qualify for the last 16 without winning at the Volkswagen Arena, but only if they match PSV's result at home to CSKA Moscow, who can no longer qualify for the knockout stages.
Victory in Eindhoven will guarantee the Dutch champions a last 16 berth, but coach Phillip Cocu was not soothed by the simplicity of the qualifying permutations.
“It will not be that easy because all the games in our group have shown the difference between the teams is not so big,” said the 45-year-old, who played under Van Gaal with both Barcelona and the Netherlands.
“You have to fight and perform well in every game, also in the whole game. We did a great job twice in our home games and we have to do it again.”
United started with Rooney, Lingard, the fit-again Anthony Martial and PSV old boy Memphis Depay in a pacy new-look attack, but after dominating the first half, they ran out of both steam and ideas in the second.
Lingard's chance came in the 73rd minute, after Van Gaal had sent on Marouane Fellaini and Ashley Young for Bastian Schweinsteiger and Depay, but Cocu felt that the changes had actually played into PSV's hands.
“We knew if [Fellaini] came on the game would be more direct,” he said.
“I think it was positive for us because we were prepared for it and the team did well. We even got more space in midfield and on the sides.”
Asked to analyse United's style, Cocu said: “They want to dominate the game. That's their style and the first 20 minutes they power forward and created some dangerous situations.
“But we felt when the game went on and they couldn't score the goal, they were not so dominant any more. They couldn't find a solution of beating our defence.
“We played tactically very good and maybe they didn't believe in the last part of the game that they could win it.”
Van Gaal must now rally his players for Saturday's trip to surprise Premier League leaders Leicester City, when top spot will be on the line.
“The next game you can score out of nothing,” the United manager consoled himself. “That is football.”