He also believes the two meeting in this competition rather than the Champions League is not a sign of how far the two clubs have fallen.
Van Gaal was asked as much in his press conference on Wednesday, and according to Aimee Lewis and Michael Emons of BBC Sport, he said:
"It was another time, you live in the past. You have to live in the present. Several people are thinking they are the enemy, but I don't think like that. I think they are an opponent and we want to beat that opponent."
The manager is still hoping to beat the Reds, though, per Paul Hirst of the Times:
According to Hirst, Van Gaal added the Red Devils are "happy" to be in the competition and believes there is a "negative" view of the Europa League in England:
The 64-year-old believes the fans of both sides are embracing the tournament. Per David McDonnell of the Mirror, he added:
Against teams like Midtjylland there were how many fans? 58,000.The fans of Manchester United are appreciating it.
How many fans do you think we’ll have against Liverpool, I think maybe 75,000. I think also Liverpool is sold out, so that’s what I have to say.
James Robson of the Manchester Evening News noted Van Gaal himself hasn't helped the perception of the Europa League, though:
Any tournament with a major trophy at the end is worth winning—even for a club that traditionally plies its trade at a higher level—and Champions League qualification makes the prospect of winning it all the sweeter.
It has its drawbacks, though, with the huge number of extra games it brings and Thursday night schedule often serving to hamper its participants' domestic campaigns.
The Dutchman believes the clash carries even more weight with the two clubs hoping to qualify for the Champions League by winning the competition, per Hirst:
Further, the United boss is targeting wins in both legs of the round-of-16 tie, according to the club's official Twitter feed:
He acknowledged it would be difficult, though, as he believes counterpart Jurgen Klopp is doing well at Anfield:
Despite the well-documented struggles of English sides in European competition in recent years, Van Gaal believes the Premier League is showing its strength this season, per Lewis and Emons:
"Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal are playing in the Champions League so there are six clubs representing the Premier League [in Europe] and you have to be very proud of that. Not many leagues have clubs participating at that high level."
Liverpool and the Red Devils are joined in the Europa League by Tottenham Hotspur, though one of the two will be absent in the quarter-finals, while Spurs face a difficult challenge as they take on Borussia Dortmund.
In the Champions League, Arsenal are almost certain to exit unless they can overturn a 2-0 deficit to Barcelona, while Chelsea lost their first leg with Paris Saint-Germain 2-1, so the number of English sides still in European competition could be set to drop dramatically in the coming weeks.
Per Lewis and Emons, he gave the latest on United's injury situation with Antonio Valencia possibly set to feature:
Valencia is coming back, Bastian Schweinsteiger is coming back, a lot of players will come back in March, when they come back it is not so easy to see if they can cope with the rhythm of the match.
They are fit to train but, for example, Schweinsteiger only has one training session behind his back. Valencia is fit enough to be on the bench, but to play 90 minutes? I don't think so.
Van Gaal also explained part of his reasoning in taking over at United with the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss eager to experience English football. According to McDonnell, he said:
I think football in England is very deep in the life of the people, of course I have noticed that also in Spain and Germany but that was less deep than here.
It’s fantastic to see that, that’s also one aspect why I wanted to come here, to have that experience.
It is also sometimes what I can see too much, but I like to see it because you can see the heart of the club and also the feeling that they are with you every game. It’s nice for the players and for the manager.
While many United fans may not share Van Gaal's assessment they have embraced the Europa League with open arms, a clash with Liverpool has undoubtedly renewed their interest in it.
The Dutchman has had great success against the Reds, winning all four of his Premier League matches against them and conceding just two goals in that time.
Should he add another two wins against their bitter rivals and see United edge closer to both a trophy and a Champions League place, not to mention potentially setting up a thrilling tie with a team such as Dortmund, the pressure on Van Gaal will ease somewhat.