Louis van Gaal has suggested that anyone who derides Manchester United and Liverpool for being in the Europa League is living in the past.
The English giants have been champions of Europe eight times between them –- Liverpool on five occasions, United three – but now find themselves facing each other in Europe’s secondary club competition.
Van Gaal though has dismissed suggestions that it is a sign that the bitter rivals are in decline, claiming instead that all clubs go through troughs at some stage.
Liverpool failed to qualify for the Champions League after finishing sixth domestically last season, while United were eliminated at the group stage in December.
But Van Gaal said on Wednesday: “How many titles have Liverpool and how many titles have Manchester United? It was another time. You live in the past. You have to live in the present.
“This happens in football. It’s normal. It’s not normal that one team dominates for 20 years in a row as champions,” the Dutchman added.
United’s manager insisted that English football as a whole is as strong as ever, with Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal all making the knockout stages of this season’s Champions League, while Tottenham Hotspur are also still involved in European competition.
“Other teams are playing in the Champions League. You are talking about Manchester United and Liverpool, and we are happy to play in the Europa League, but City, Chelsea and Arsenal are still in the Champions League,” he said.
“Six clubs are representing the Premier League. You have to be very proud of that because not many countries have so many clubs participating at that high a level.”
Van Gaal has played down talk that the heated rivalry between Liverpool and United adds extra significance to a two-legged tie that begins with a match at Anfield on Thursday, saying Sunday’s 1-0 Premier League defeat at West Bromwich Albion was just as significant to him.
“Several people are thinking that they (Liverpool) are the enemy,” Van Gaal said. “I am not thinking like that. I am thinking that they are the opponent. We want to beat the opponent.
“For the fans, it’s a bigger something, but for me, no. I want to win every game. When we win against West Bromwich Albion, I’m very pleased. When we lose, and we have lost, I am very disappointed.
“I want to win every game and we prepare ourselves to beat the opponent. It does not depend on whether we play Liverpool or West Bromwich Albion, who we lost to.
“It is also a big disappointment for us that we lost against West Bromwich Albion. When we win against Liverpool, I am very happy, but not more happy than if we had beaten West Bromwich Albion.”
United would qualify for next season’s Champions League if they won the Europa League and that represents a significant opportunity to regain a place in top European competition.
Their hopes of doing so by finishing in the Premier League’s top four are in the balance, as they lie sixth in the table.
Chris Smalling, a member of the United team who failed to qualify for the Champions League two seasons ago, does not want to fall short again.
“We’ve still got a lot of games to play in the league, and we have another route in the Europa League to make sure that doesn’t happen again,” the defender said.
“We’re all striving forward and looking forward to make sure that doesn’t happen for a second time.”
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