LONDON • Manchester United's woeful season took another turn for the worse on Thursday when they were beaten easily by Liverpool in the first leg of their Europa League clash, leading Paul Scholes to label the club a "shambles".
Louis van Gaal's future as United manager was brought back under the spotlight after his team crumbled to a 2-0 defeat in their round-of-16 tie at Anfield.
Scholes shared the disappointment of the miserable United supporters who streamed out of the ground after Daniel Sturridge and Roberto Firmino handed Liverpool victory, and he did not hold back in his criticism of the club where he spent his career.
"United were a shambles," the former England midfielder said.
"At 2-0 they are still in the game but when you are at Man United there are certain standards to live up to and they are falling well short."
Sturridge put Liverpool ahead in the 20th minute with his first European goal in six years. The England striker slotted a penalty past David de Gea after Memphis Depay brought down Nathaniel Clyne in the box.
What are they trying to do? I have absolutely no idea. The first half was shocking. In the second half they go back to using three at the back, which they tried last season, and it was an absolute disaster. Tonight, again, it was a disaster.
PAUL SCHOLES, criticising Man United's performance in the 2-0 Europa League defeat by Liverpool.
Van Gaal brought on Michael Carrick to play in a three-man defence after the break, but, after an initial improvement, United imploded again.
Adam Lallana pounced on Carrick's weak clearance and squared for Firmino to beat de Gea from close range.
Scholes dismissed van Gaal's tactics and lashed out at the players for letting the club down.
"In the last three years, they've just gone away from something that worked," he said.
"You look at the pitch tonight... What are they trying to do? I have absolutely no idea. The first half was shocking. In the second half they go back to using three at the back, which they tried last season, and it was an absolute disaster. Tonight, again, it was a disaster."
Given that winning the Europa League seems to be the best chance van Gaal has of leading his team in the Champions League next season, this defeat was a bitter blow.
The Dutchman admitted his players buckled under pressure.
"We did not cope with the high pressure of Liverpool and we had expected that," he said.
Van Gaal branded both of Liverpool's goals "cheap" and criticised the officials for giving the home side the benefit of the doubt on a tight call involving Depay and Clyne for the penalty.
The United manager also said the officials should have spotted that Lallana was marginally offside when he squared the ball to Firmino for Liverpool's second.
Things could have turned much more nasty had de Gea not pulled off three top-class saves to deny Lallana, Philippe Coutinho and Sturridge in the first half.
"De Gea is a good goalkeeper," Juergen Klopp, the delighted Liverpool manager, said.
"For us, 2-0 is a perfect result for the second leg. We would have liked to win by a bit more but everything is okay, there is nothing to criticise. It is only the first leg, but we needed to win it, and that's what we did."
THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE