Erik ten Hag told his Manchester United players to make sure they get straight back into the Champions League next season after a dismal European campaign ended in an early exit at the hands of Bayern Munich on Tuesday night.
Kingsley Coman’s 70th-minute goal, laid on by Harry Kane, gave the Germans a 1-0 win and ensured United finished bottom of Group A – beaten to second place by FC Copenhagen, operating on a fraction of their budget, and to third and the consolation of Europa League football by Galatasaray.
The final whistle was greeted with boos at Old Trafford, where United lost for the seventh time this season – having now lost more games in all competitions, 12, than they have won, 11.
Ten Hag’s side are out of Europe, out of the League Cup, and sixth in the Premier League going into Sunday’s visit to leaders Liverpool. Defeat also came at a cost, with both Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw picking up injuries before half-time.
“There are still many things to play for now, we can focus on the Premier League,” Ten Hag said.
“This is the level we want to play, the Champions League, so we have to give every effort to get into the top four so next year we are back in the Champions League – and of course there is the FA Cup so there are still many things to play for.”
In a match they needed to win, United mustered only one shot on target, a Shaw effort that never really troubled Manuel Neuer. A much better chance fell to Bruno Fernandes early in the second half but the captain blazed over.
Bayern, already assured of top spot in the group, barely needed to get out of second gear but Ten Hag insisted his side performed well.
“I think the game was like this, both sides had less chances but I think there was a good intensity from our side,” the Dutchman said.
“We brought Bayern out of their rhythm, the defending organisation we did quite well if not very well, especially the first part of second half. Also we had a very good chance from Bruno, so we had our moments but didn’t take them.”
Bayern boss Thomas Tuchel, who bounced back from Saturday’s 5-1 humbling away to Eintracht Frankfurt, admitted he had expected United to progress from Group A and had sympathy for Ten Hag’s position – pointing to United’s long list of absentees.
“I think you could see it’s not an easy time for them. I’m pretty sure he knows what to do next, how to influence his team and he doesn’t need any advice from me,” Tuchel said. “He is experienced enough to go through it.”
Kane set up Coman’s goal with a perfectly placed pass with the outside of his boot and the man United coveted for so long was a constant menace as he linked up Bayern’s attacking play and sent a late header narrowly wide.
“Harry is a difference maker, 100 per cent,” Tuchel said of the England captain. “His personality, his calmness.
“The team knows anything can happen any minute with Harry up front. He can always assist, he can always score.”