Van Gaal claims United progress despite Champions League exit

Louis van Gaal couldn't guide Manchester United out of the Champions League group stage.

Stuart Franklin

Louis van Gaal claimed Manchester United were making good progress under his reign despite their embarrassing Champions League exit.

United failed to get out of the group stages for just the fourth time thanks to their 3-2 defeat in Wolfsburg on Tuesday.

PSV Eindhoven’s 2-1 win over CSKA Moscow on the same night meant United tumbled out of the Champions League for an unwanted reunion with the Europa League.

Yet despite failing to get through a relatively easy group – and failing to win over disgruntled supporters – Van Gaal insisted United were on the right track with him at the helm.

"At the moment I cannot defend myself because we are out of the Champions League," the United manager said. "Every word that I say is the wrong word.

"But when you see the facts we went further in the Capital One Cup (this season), qualified for the Champions League group, we have played all these matches and are still in a very good position in the league.

"The facts say we are better than last year. That’s my answer because I can only give facts. I’m also disappointed that we are out of the Champions League."

Van Gaal refused to lay into his players following the loss in Lower Saxony.

A patched-up team that ended the game with Nick Powell, Guillermo Varela and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson on the pitch, went ahead through Anthony Martial’s 10th-minute goal, but soon after Wolfsburg were level thanks to Naldo’s first-time volley.

Julian Draxler’s delicious dribbling and craftsmanship then opened up the United defense, allowing Vieirinha to tap in and make it 2-1.

United had a goal disallowed for offside before the break, but a late own goal by Josuha Guilavogui leveled the scores.

But just two minutes later, Naldo sealed the win for Wolfsburg from close range.

"It was a crazy match," Van Gaal said.

"We didn’t score many goals before and in an away match you score two goals – maybe three but one was canceled out.

"But you two times give away a goal within two minutes of scoring, that’s difficult to understand when you defend so well normally.

"We were not so lucky in a match today with the decisions of the referee, but also in the first match we were lucky with the decision of that referee.

"When the group is tight, those kind of decisions can decide whether you go through or not.

"This was a tight group so I am not agreeing with any opinion that this was an easy group."

Van Gaal felt the fact that he had seven first-team players out injured did not help.

The Dutchman’s injury problems worsened further on Tuesday when Chris Smalling hobbled through the final minutes and Matteo Darmian came off injured in the first half.

"We have to play the match with a lot of injuries and also the last 15-20 minutes we had to play with 10 players you have to analyze that also," he said.

Van Gaal admits it will be underwhelming to see his team play the rest of the season in the Europa League.

He added: "I’ve said to the players, now it’s over in the Champions League.

"You cannot show your qualities any more on the highest podium.

"It’s a pity but we have a lot to fight for – the FA Cup and the Premier League."

The stand-out moment of the match came when Draxler and Max Kruse combined brilliantly to lay Wolfsburg’s second on a plate for Vieirinha.

The goalscorer told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle: "It’s a beautiful goal. The combination of Julian Draxler and Max Kruse was amazing and as I just said, I had the easy job of just putting the ball into the net.

"We knew it would be a difficult game, but we also knew we could beat them. I think in the first game in Old Trafford we showed what we can do and I think tonight we played superbly and the result cannot be contested."