If we genuinely believe that Louis van Gaal's Manchester United side are still learning a lesson or two, then perhaps they finally got it drilled into them that a European tie is over 180 minutes and not just 90. If United had shown just half the bottle they did last night at Anfield last week, the club wouldn't have been on a knife-edge position throughout the evening against the old enemy.

Admittedly, there was plenty good about United in isolation but fans just can't quite put a finger on which United they'll be served up on matchday. That the manager doesn't sync with the fabric of the club is perhaps one explanation. Indeed, at a time when United needed to score three goals to advance, Louis van Gaal picked out defensive substitutions from the lot on the bench. It's all nice and lovely claiming to be in line with the requirements and precautions of sports science but fans will not have it if it comes at the expense of the ingredients that relate fans with players on the pitch in a European game against the eternal enemy.

The totality of the situation is a bleak and painful scenario of a manager sat in his chair, locked in solo conviction, over a job he morally hold in trust of millions, thousands of whom are watching beside him in the same cathedral. Forced to live and eat the food of someone you've come to loathe. It's a desperate situation that those on the terraces would give anything to be absolved of.

As far as the season that just won't end is concerned, United are left with an FA Cup last eight replay at West Ham and the scramble for a fourth place in the league. Bar a minor miracle in the league, United are set to miss out on European football for the second time in three years. For a club that will soon announce record heights commercially in the summer, their plight on the grass is a wonder.

Getting knocked out of Europe by your most bitter rivals is something that takes a while to get over. Whether a Manchester derby round the corner is the perfect tonic remains to be seen come Sunday.

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