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Gary Neville: Manchester United must focus everything on the Europa League

by Leo Nieboer

Gary Neville has urged Manchester United to place full emphasis on winning the Europa League following their 2-0 defeat to Arsenal on Sunday.

Jose Mourinho made eight changes from the side that claimed a 1-0 win over Celta Vigo last week against Arsenal, with Thursday’s second leg the clear priority.

And it showed at the Emirates: second half goals from Granit Xhaka and Danny Welbeck gave the hosts a deserved win and effectively ended Man United’s top four hopes.

Neville, speaking on Sky Sports in the aftermath, encouraged his former side to focus solely on their European exploits from now on.

“I think making eight changes was a step too far,” he said.

“They have been resilient over these last few months with obviously not losing a game in the Premier League, but then when they’ve had chances to capitalise on teams dropping points, they’ve never been able to step up and get into that top gear or get close.

“Ultimately, Man Utd have been riding both horses full pelt for the last couple of months and you’ve always felt it would be one game too far and I think today, it felt a little bit like that.

“It is going to be far too much from them now. I always felt that they would fall short, but with Liverpool dropping points in these last few weeks, and I think the big one for United was dropping points against Swansea, those are the ones that kill you really and Mourinho knows that.

“His team are short this season in terms of the Premier League and they have to focus everything on Thursday. I think they will be okay because of the fact it is a completely different competition.

“I don’t think so [that the result will have an effect on Thursday’s second leg] because of the fact there will be so many changes. Eric Bailly, Daley Blind and Marcus Rashford will come in.

“My view is that before this game, Jose Mourinho’s language in his press conference made it feel like it was all around the Europa League with two games in the competition compared to four in the Premier League.”

Mourinho himself has admitted that United, following their 1-1 draw with Swansea, had given up on the Premier League as a route into the Champions League. And you can see why: there is still a chance they could breach the top four, even after defeat at Arsenal, but the psychological effect of constantly failing to do so cannot be underestimated.

These players, you suspect, will be happy to condense their congested season into two games from now on: the clash with Celta and, hopefully, the final against Ajax on May 21.

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