Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has raised the stakes ahead of Sunday’s derby against Manchester City by describing it as a must-win match if his team is to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
United is four points behind fourth-place City with nine games left this season.
Asked if the derby was “do or die” for his team’s top-four ambitions, Van Gaal said: “I think so, yes . you have to win. Otherwise the gap is bigger and bigger and the matches that you have to play are not so big (many).”
“Then it is seven points and we have to play eight matches. Then it’s very sharp to recover from that gap.”
The other route to the Champions League — through winning the Europa League — was closed off for United following its elimination by Liverpool in the last 16 on Thursday.
That has increased the pressure on Van Gaal, especially since his predecessor David Moyes was fired in 2014 once United could not qualify for Europe’s top competition.
Win at Etihad Stadium on Sunday, though, and United will be back on track to achieve Van Gaal’s revised aim for the rest of the season.
“Our purpose was to reach the top three because we want to do it better than last year,” the Dutchman said.
Questioned whether that meant United was currently falling below expectations, Van Gaal said: “Expectations can be too high.”