Marouane Fellaini believes Manchester United’s chances of winning the Premier League are likely to be hampered by their participation in the Europa League.
The board expected Louis van Gaal’s team to go through as group winners, but instead they finished third and the Dutchman now faces the ignominy of leading United in the Europa League instead.
Many teams struggle to deal with the challenge of playing on Thursdays and then on a Sunday. Having been in the Europa League just once in the last 19 years, United are certainly not accustomed to it.
When asked whether playing in the Europa League was likely to affect United’s league form, Fellaini said: “Yes, because when you play Thursday it is closer to the weekend, so it will be tough, but we are there now, in the Europa League, so we have to go there and try to win.
“It’s always difficult (to drop into the Europa League). Everyone wants to be in the Champions League.”
Given United’s injury troubles, Van Gaal may struggle to ease the pressure on his shoulders by delivering a victory at Bournemouth to keep the pressure on Leicester and Manchester City on Saturday evening.
Matteo Darmian (hamstring) and Chris Smalling (groin) joined United’s lengthy injury list – which includes captain Wayne Rooney – on Tuesday night.
Van Gaal now has nine players in the treatment room, but he cannot use that as an excuse for flopping in Europe, with Marcos Rojo confirming on Wednesday he’s undergone surgery on a fractured shoulder.
United had the chance to qualify for the last 16 two weeks ago when they hosted PSV Eindhoven, but they could only manage yet another 0-0 draw.
Fellaini admits United only have themselves to blame for their exit.
“It’s disappointing for everyone,” the Belgium midfielder said.
“Everyone knows that we should have finished it against PSV Eindhoven.”
United managed just seven goals in their six group stage matches, which annoyed Fellaini.
And the former Everton player conceded United’s defending in Germany was not good enough either.
“We didn’t score,” Fellaini said when asked why United had failed to qualify.
“In the first game against PSV we created a lot of chances but we didn’t score.
“We are very disappointed. They (Wolfsburg) scored three goals – two from set-pieces.
“We should have defended better, been more tight and more aggressive.”
Bastian Schweinsteiger will join the likes of Luke Shaw, Antonio Valencia and Marcos Rojo on the absentee list for Saturday’s game at Bournemouth if the FA finds him guilty of violent conduct for an elbow on Winston Reid in United’s 0-0 draw against West Ham.
With possibly up to 10 players out, Fellaini hopes the youngsters who have been drafted into the squad recently can step up.
“We have a lot of injuries,” the 28-year-old said.
“There’s nothing we can do about that. We have a lot of players in the squad that the manager has given a chance to and now they can show themselves, but I hope the injured players come back soon.”
Van Gaal did not sound optimistic about the chances of Smalling or Darmian being fit for the trip to the south coast when he spoke after Tuesday’s game.
The United manager said: “It’s only happened this evening, but normally they are out for Saturday.”