Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal suggested his side are being affected by fatigue after they battled to a 2-1 Champions League victory over Wolfsburg at Old Trafford on Wednesday.
United were somewhat unconvincing as they registered their first Group B points with the win, having to come from behind after Daniel Caligiuri’s fourth-minute strike and then, following Juan Mata’s penalty and a Chris Smalling goal, hanging on towards the end.
Van Gaal was pleased with the result and some aspects of the performance, but felt United got lucky when they were awarded the 34th-minute spot-kick for a handball by Caligiuri, and criticised them for being careless in possession.
He claimed the number of games United have played of late - this was their sixth in 18 days - is taking its toll.
Van Gaal, whose Barclays Premier League-topping team play Arsenal away on Sunday, said: “We scored at once (in the second half to make it 2-1) but after that it was suffering.
“A lot of players are very tired because of the accumulation of a lot of matches.
“We had given a lot in the first half, and also, (it is about) the accumulation of the matches in the last weeks because I cannot understand (otherwise) why we would give the ball away so easily.”
Van Gaal said his side had deserved to win overall given the amount of chances they created, and praised the spirit they had shown to secure the result.
But he stressed there is still plenty of room for improvement for United, who have now won four games in a row in all competitions since losing their Group B opener 2-1 at PSV Eindhoven.
Van Gaal said: “We have to keep our feet on the ground and we have to improve a lot to be at the top of Europe.
“We have beaten Wolfsburg, I am very happy and the players are very happy, but we have to improve on the second-half performance and we have to know that, and I have said that also to the players.
“We could have won this game in a better way.”
Van Gaal also insisted he had seen better performances from Mata, despite the forward winning as well as scoring the penalty and providing a delightful tee-up for Smalling’s 53rd-minute sliding finish in an eye-catching display.
Meanwhile, Wolfsburg boss Dieter Hecking had some strong words as he gave his analysis of the game.
Hecking said: “I thought the second (Smalling’s) goal was unlucky. We just lacked that bit of luck. But I’m optimistic we can build on this strong performance.’’
Hecking also suggested United midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin should have received a second yellow card for a challenge late in the game on Julian Draxler.