Can Manchester United salvage a top four finish this season?

It’s a sign of just how badly this season has gone for Manchester United under Louis van Gaal that a target that was initially pegged as the bare-minimum from the Dutchman’s expensively assembled squad now prompts the club’s fans to analyse the remaining fixtures of Manchester City, Arsenal alongside United’s in an attempt to plot an unlikely path to a top four finish.

With each team having five games remaining, United sit four points behind both clubs with an inferior goal difference, and are relying on favours from the likes of Newcastle United, Norwich, West Bromwich Albion and Southampton in order to gain an increasingly lucrative spot in the Champions League. City and Arsenal have also endured indifferent Premier League campaigns, and face each other in their penultimate game of this league season at the Etihad Stadium in what could be a pivotal fixture for each club.

Should either side drop points, then United realistically still need to win at least four, if not all of their last five games in order to remove themselves from fifth place. Trips to Upton Park and the visit of league leaders Leicester City are hardly simple tasks, however, and given United’s struggles with consistency and form under Van Gaal, the prospect of a top four finish is certainly a tall order with so few games left to play.

In the short term, with City away to Newcastle United on Tuesday evening, United could close the gap to Arsenal in fourth place with a win at home to Crystal Palace on Wednesday night, leaving the Gunners needing to respond against West Brom on Thursday. Given the Premier League’s unpredictability, at the very least Van Gaal’s side must continue to give themselves the best possible chance of a positive end to the season, starting with victory in midweek.