Man Utd simply must make the Europa League priority No.1

It's Liverpool or BUST: Man Utd simply must make the Europa League priority No.1
Despite Louis van Gaal's admission that he would rather win the FA Cup, the prospect of defeat to their greatest rivals will not be accepted by United supporters
Once upon a time, a two-legged European tussle between Liverpool and Manchester United would have captured the imagination of the whole world. With eight European titles, 38 domestic championships, a whole host of other silverware and a long, historic rivalry between them, it is a fixture which would whet any footballing appetite.
That their first ever continental clash should come in a round of 16 Europa League fixture says much about the fortunes of both clubs at this moment in time.
Liverpool are still coming to terms with the new demands of Jurgen Klopp after the failures of Brendan Rodgers’s final days in charge, while Louis van Gaal has had a season-long struggle with expectation as well as injuries.
The Dutchman has made it clear in recent weeks that he believes fifth place in the Premier League and continued participation in both the FA Cup and the Europa League are acceptable achievements in the context of the decimation of his squad this term. And he has even admitted that he would prefer to capture an FA Cup crown over silverware in Europe, regardless of the Champions League carrot which dangles for the Europa League winners.

But Friday’s draw puts a very different light on United’s European expectations now. Whereas in any other setting the Old Trafford faithful would not have taken the competition seriously until the semi-finals at the earliest, the prospect of being knocked out by Liverpool now brings the Europa League into a much sharper focus.
Having already done the league double over the Merseysiders, United fans should be confident that their side can again get the job done over the two legs, but there will be many who will spend the next three weeks fearing the consequences of a European defeat at the hands of their greatest rivals.

Van Gaal has claimed over the past week that many of his injured squad members will be looking to return in March. David de Gea, Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo, Antonio Valencia and Bastian Schweinsteiger are all among those hoping to have made a full recovery by the time the first leg at Anfield rolls around on March 10. Wholesale returns will only give the Dutchman greater pressure to succeed, since the excuses he has had of late for stuttering performances will no longer apply.

United now face a crunch week in the middle of March, with the two legs against Liverpool coming either side of the FA Cup quarter-final clash with West Ham. But Van Gaal must now readjust his valuation of the two competitions in light of the majesty of Liverpool and Manchester United’s shared history.
It may not be a European Cup final, or even a Champions League clash of any description, but for the next few weeks at least it becomes the most vital continental fixture of either team’s long, glorious history. And Van Gaal must accept that, for the time being, the Europa League is now his club’s most pressing priority.

Defeat to Liverpool simply cannot be countenanced.