Sir Alex Ferguson feels Manchester United could still reach the Europa League quarter-finals – but only if his side improve in defence after losing an open game at Old Trafford.

The boss felt the Reds’ second successive home defeat in Europe was fair, given how well the visitors Athletic Club played and how his team failed to stop Fernando Llorente, Oscar de Marcos and Iker Muniain from scoring the three away goals.

“We were well beaten,” Sir Alex admitted. “Athletic Club Bilbao were the better team, they were very aggressive in terms of their attacking and pressing the ball. Their system caused us problems. All teams do that away from home – they overload the midfield which can cause you problems.

“When we went to three midfielders in the second half we seemed to get better and get a grip of the game and our attacking play was pretty good then. The attacking part wasn’t a problem for us really, but our defending wasn’t very good and it kept us on the back foot all the time. It was very loose, particularly in the first half.

“Without David De Gea, we could have conceded four or five goals. He was superb. He made maybe four or five terrific saves in the game.”

De Gea had little chance for the first goal – the close-range header scored by Llorente – and Sir Alex feels the second one he conceded, from Oscar de Marcos, should have been chalked off.

“The second goal put us on the back foot again. I thought it was offside and if it had been disallowed, I think we could have won the game. Maybe not deservedly but I think we could have won it.”

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