Louis van Gaal has challenged his Manchester United to prove they are worthy of playing for the club by helping them avoid an embarrassingly early Champions League exit.
United are likely to crash out of the Champions League group stages for just the fourth time in history if their patched-up team fails to win in Wolfsburg on Tuesday.
If they draw or lose, United will have to rely on PSV Eindhoven slipping up at home to CSKA Moscow – who have already been eliminated – to make it through to the last 16.
It is a situation neither Van Gaal nor the United board thought they would be in when the groups were drawn in August.
And the United boss concedes dropping into the Europa League would be a big blow for the three-time European champions.
“It’s very important for the club to continue in the Champions League, and also for the players,” Van Gaal said.
“They want to show their qualities at the highest podium. That’s why it’s important (we qualify).”
Despite having a rich European history and a multi-million pound squad, the odds seem to be stacked against United.
Wolfsburg only need a draw to make the knock-out stages for the first time and until Saturday’s loss to Borussia Dortmund they had embarked on a 29-match unbeaten home run in the Bundesliga.
When Pep Guardiola brought his all-conquering Bayern Munich team to the Volkswagen Arena last season, they lost 4-1.
A quick look at the Bayern team that day shows just how big of an achievement that was. Arjen Robben, Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Muller, Xabi Alonso and Manuel Neuer were in the starting XI and Mario Gotze, who would go on to score the winning goal in the World Cup final six months later, was only good enough for a place on the bench.
United’s squad looks incredibly weak in comparison. Wayne Rooney, Morgan Schneiderlin, Luke Shaw, Antonio Valencia, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo and Ander Herrera are injured, so Van Gaal has been forced to bring a threadbare squad to Lower Saxony.
United were booed off following their sixth goalless draw of the season on Saturday, but Van Gaal hopes he will not have to rely on CSKA pulling off a shock win over PSV to qualify on Tuesday.
“We have to be independent of the result of PSV Eindhoven so it’s important we win,” he said.
“I have the experience as a manager that the goals shall come.
“When you are creating chances at the end you shall finish those kind of chances.
“That’s why we have that belief. It’s a matter of time and I hope we can prove it tomorrow.”