LONDON • Louis van Gaal warned his Manchester United players they will have to improve if they want to reach the latter stages of the Champions League, after making it clear he was not satisfied with their performance in a 2-1 defeat of Wolfsburg on Wednesday.
He was alarmed by the manner in which his men gave away possession after leading through Chris Smalling's early second-half goal.
The English Premier League leaders recovered from going behind to Daniel Caligiuri's goal after four minutes, with Juan Mata equalising from the penalty spot.
But United endured several nervy moments before the final whistle, with Andre Schuerrle and Ricardo Rodriguez going close.
And Van Gaal was dismayed by his side's momentary loss of defensive organisation.
"After that, it was not good and that is remarkable because when it comes to keeping the ball in our possession, we have done that very well in the last five or six matches," the manager said.
"We have given a lot in the first half to get back in the game and, maybe, it was also because of the accumulation of matches in the last few weeks.
"But I cannot understand how we can give the ball away so easily.
"We have to keep our feet on the ground and we have to improve a lot to be the top of Europe.
"Today, we have won this game but it could have been done in a better way. We were suffering in the end. A lot of players are very tired because of the accumulation of matches. But I think the team spirit kept us in the match."
All four teams in Group B are level on three points following PSV Eindhoven's 3-2 defeat by CSKA Moscow on Wednesday.
Van Gaal confirmed it was his decision to make Mata the team's designated penalty-taker ahead of Wayne Rooney. But he delivered an unflattering response when it was put to him that, on that form, the Spaniard was among the most creative players in Europe.
Mata had teed up Smalling's 53rd-minute winner with a delightful improvised flick and proved a constant source of invention.
"I have seen Mata play better than today," said the Dutchman.
"I agree (that he played well) but I don't agree with you."
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE