Erik ten Hag admitted Manchester United “need options” up front after they beat Real Sociedad but failed to score enough goals to avoid a Europa League play-off tie.
Already assured of progress from Group E, the second-placed Red Devils arrived in Spain knowing they needed to win by a two-goal margin to usurp the first-placed hosts and progress straight to the round of 16.
Teenager Alejandro Garnacho got them off to a superb start but United lost their way after half-time, with Ten Hag’s alterations ineffective as La Real dug deep in a 1-0 defeat that means they topped the group.
The Reds finish runners-up and will face one of the sides dropping out of the Champions League, with Barcelona, Juventus and Ten Hag’s former club Ajax among the possible opponents in Monday’s play-off draw.
Ten Hag was pleased with Garnacho – who overtook George Best as the club’s youngest non-English goalscorer in major European competition – but says United must work on their effectiveness in the final third.
“We need options,” the Dutchman told BT Sport. “We have problems there.
“Antony not available, Anthony Martial not available, Jadon Sancho not available, but I’m really happy with that performance and I hope he can keep the process going.
“He was a threat, he scored a goal, he was reliable defending so if you can keep this going I’m really happy.”
Such were United’s lack of firepower upfront, Ten Hag brought Harry Maguire on in the 82nd minute as a makeshift striker alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and fellow substitute Marcus Rashford.
Speaking at his post-match press conference, Ten Hag added: “Of course, we always want to be number one. And when we are not we are disappointed about it. But finally, we won tonight. It was a clean sheet. We created some great chances, but we had some problems in the front line.
“It’s clear we have to work on that. We have to score more goals. But in the end it is what it is. I think that within this group we’ve had our opportunities to get a better goal difference. That’s the right analysis.”
Source: SKY Sports