Manchester, United Kingdom – Manchester United manager David Moyes says that his team need to sharpen up their act before they can be considered one of the favourites to win the Champions League.
United will avoid several European heavyweights in next week's draw for the last 16 after edging Shakhtar Donetsk 1-0 at Old Trafford on Tuesday to finish top of Group A.
Phil Jones scored the game's only goal – the first United had scored at Old Trafford in exactly a month – as they got back to winning ways following successive home defeats by Everton and Newcastle United.
While their form in Europe has been in stark contrast to their domestic struggles, with four wins and two draws from their six group matches, Moyes knows that there remains significant room for improvement.
“The club itself could easily be classed as one of the favourites, but we all know that as a team we have to improve if we're going to keep progressing in the competition,” he said.
“But hopefully we've given ourselves the best chance by winning the group.”
He added: “You want to try and win the group. It was a difficult group and a lot has been said (of the fact) that I was inexperienced in the Champions League, so to have my first real experience, I'm happy to top the group.”
United have laboured in the defence of their Premier League title, losing five of their first 15 games, but they have impressed in Europe, notably beating Bayer Leverkusen 4-2 and 5-0.
Moyes, who never experienced the group stage during his 11-year tenure at Everton, admits he is at a loss to explain the disparity.
“If I had the answer, I'd have solved it by now and it would all be OK,” he told a post-game press conference.
“I do believe there is a different style (in Europe). You can tell that the players here are used to it, they're well experienced in European football, so I think they're more than capable of playing at this level.
“They're also very comfortable playing in the Premier League, but at the moment we're not showing it.”
Prior to Jones's 67th-minute goal, which came from a Robin van Persie corner, Shakhtar spurned several opportunities to take the lead, such as when Alex Teixeira shot narrowly wide in the 12th minute.
Moyes admitted that United had been “fortunate” not to concede a goal and said that the Ukrainian champions had given his team “the most problems” that they had faced at Old Trafford this season.
He was also critical of United's finishing, having seen Ashley Young spurn two very presentable chances shortly before half-time.
“I'm not concerned about scoring goals from set-pieces, that's for sure, but we want to score more from open play and we missed a couple of chances tonight (Tuesday),” he said.
“Some good crosses came in and Ash had two good chances.”
United currently trail Arsenal by 13 points in the Premier League, but Shakhtar coach Mircea Lucescu said he detected no signs of nervousness in the English champions' display.
“No, on the contrary Ä I thought the team were very confident,” said the experienced Romanian, whose side missed out on a place in the knockout phase.
“Today there were players who hadn't played in the last two games that United lost, so their attitude to the game was different.
“We hope this result will help Manchester United rediscover their place in the Premier League.”
Shakhtar won the Europa League under Lucescu in 2009 and he said that he had no qualms about returning to a competition that his side last graced four seasons ago.
“It'll be very interesting to be in the Europa League because a lot of money has been invested in the Europa League and a lot of very respectable teams will play in the Europa League,” he said. – Sapa-AFP