Van Gaal despondent as United crashes at Sunderland


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.

Martial had equalized for United in the 39th minute after recent signing Wahbi Khazri put Sunderland ahead in the third minute.

The loss left United six points behind fourth-place Manchester City, having played one more game.

With the top four in action against each other on Sunday — leader Leicester is at Arsenal and Manchester City hosts Tottenham — United wasted a great chance to close the gap on the Champions League places.

“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.

Chelsea has endured an even more miserable season but the ailing champions did manage to produce their most emphatic win of the campaign on Saturday by routing Newcastle 5-1 to climb to 12th place. Manager Guus Hiddink remains unbeaten since replacing fired Jose Mourinho in December but Chelsea is 14 points from fourth place.

Diego Costa, wearing a mask after breaking his nose, took just five minutes to put Chelsea in front and Pedro Rodriguez intercepted sloppy Newcastle passing to score in the 9th.

Willian completed a counterattack after being set up by Costa in the 17th, Pedro netted again in the 59th and Bertrand Traore became the first player from Burkina Faso to score in the Premier League in the 83rd.

The only bright spot for Newcastle was a 90th-minute consolation, with Andros Townsend firing in his first goal since joining the club last month.

Newcastle remains in the relegation zone but now only a point above north-east rival Sunderland.

What helped Newcastle was that 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.