MANCHESTER, England – Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal cast doubt on his team's chances of qualifying for next season's Champions League after a 2-1 loss at relegation-threatened Sunderland in the Premier League, placing the Dutchman under fresh scrutiny on Saturday.
The latest embarrassing loss for United this season was sealed by a late own goal by David de Gea in the 82nd minute, with a goal-line clearance from Anthony Martial cannoning off the back of the goalkeeper and into the net.
With the top four in action against each other on Sunday, fifth-place United wasted a great chance to trim the gap in the race for Champions League qualification. United is six points behind fourth-place Manchester City and has played one more game.
"It will be very difficult now," Van Gaal said about United finishing in the top four. "It's too much at this time. I think after this match (winning the Europa League) is the best route."
It was only last week that Van Gaal was talking up United's chances of winning the league title. Yet, the 20-time champions — on 41 points — have never had fewer points after 26 games of a Premier League season.
Martial equalized for United in the 39th after recent signing Wahbi Khazri put Sunderland ahead in the third minute.
Sunderland's win in the lunchtime kickoff meant even more after relegation rivals Norwich, Swansea and Bournemouth all failed to win.
Norwich threw away a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 at home to West Ham and stay in the relegation zone, now only a point above Sunderland. Swansea lost 1-0 at home to Southampton and is only three points above the bottom three in 16th place.
Stoke beat Bournemouth 3-1 and Watford won 2-1 at Crystal Palace, for whom Emmanuel Adebayor scored his first Premier League goal since October 2014. Troy Deeney scored both of Watford's goals.
West Bromwich produced a steely defensive display to beat Everton 1-0 away, courtesy of a goal by Salomon Rondon.