Louis van Gaal has defended his methods, philosophy and results as Manchester United and claims “the style is working”.
It seemed the Reds had turned the corner and belatedly found some consistency, with a four-match winning run complemented by home-grown teenager Marcus Rashford’s remarkable emergence.
The feel-good factor at Old Trafford has proved short-lived, though, with United’s Champions League hopes seriously dented by back-to-back losses.
Sunday’s uninspiring 1-0 defeat at West Brom diminished their top-four hopes and a tepid display at Anfield saw the Reds’ chances of qualifying through the Europa League narrow on Thursday.
Turning around the 2-0 last-16 loss is a big ask when Liverpool arrive for the second leg – a match bookended by a Premier League trip to rivals Manchester City and, firstly, an FA Cup quarter-final at home to West Ham.
Those matches could go a long way to determining under-fire Van Gaal’s future, even if the Dutchman did not want to talk about it ahead of Sunday’s match.
“I don’t want to discuss that with you because you are not part of the people who will determine,” Van Gaal said.
“This (defeat to Liverpool) of course gives us much more pressure.
“We are in three competitions and after the defeat in Midjytlland you have sacked me already and then we are standing up, and then we are in the next round and it is possible also against Liverpool.
“We have to play that match for the second time and then at home and then we create that atmosphere and then maybe we score some goals. It shall be very difficult, I know that, but it is possible.
“It is not impossible. Against West Ham United, it is also possible. At Old Trafford, we (would) normally win our games.”
United certainly appear to have the individuals on paper to triumph, but the poor style and substance display at Anfield – not for the first time this season – raises understandable doubts.
“I think it is working because you have to see how we have to work,” Van Gaal said of his tutorship.
“Under which circumstances we have to work and when you don’t have too many players and you have to play in three competitions, then it is very difficult.”
Van Gaal bristled when asked how many times United had played the way he wanted – “you are now very negative” – and rejected the accusation that United had fallen short in his time at the helm.
“I think it is working,” he said. “The style is also working.
“It is not giving the best results. It is not good enough when you think you have to be a champion. Or win the Euro League or the FA Cup.
“It is still possible, but when you see this game (against Liverpool), you can say what you are saying but when you analyse what we have done this season and the other season, then you cannot say that.
“I cannot change your mind because you are thinking (it already) otherwise you don’t put the question to me.”
Van Gaal put United’s inconsistencies down to a rotation policy borne out of necessity and remains upbeat about his chances, despite the rising pressure and Jose Mourinho constantly being linked.
“We are still in three competitions so we can fight for a lot and it is possible that we are going out (of the Europa League) and then it is very difficult situation for everyone, but still we have the chance to win something and you have to believe in that,” he said.
“I see a lot of your colleagues (in the media) are not believing in that but that was already (the case) for a long time and we are still in three competitions.
“There are many of my colleagues who are not in three competitions any more.”