English Premiership

United can still fight for title - Van Gaal

Louis van Gaal (AFP)
Louis van Gaal (AFP)

Manchester - Louis van Gaal believes Manchester United can still force their way into the Premier League title race after playing "sparkling football" in their last two games.

United manager van Gaal has been under pressure for much of the season due to his team's dour performances and inconsistent results

But the Dutchman believes a victory at Chelsea on Sunday would underline why he is so confident and set United up for a late challenge to the top four clubs.

United are still five points behind fourth-placed Arsenal and 10 adrift of league leaders Leicester, who play second-placed Manchester City on Saturday.

However, van Gaal's side have lost only one of their last eight games in all competitions and, after beating Derby 3-1 in the FA Cup, produced one of their best performances of the season to defeat Stoke 3-0 in the league at Old Trafford on Tuesday.

"We don't have to exaggerate but I have the feeling if we shall beat Chelsea, although that is very difficult because under Guus Hiddink they don't lose, then I think our league is starting again," van Gaal told reporters on Friday.

"Michael Carrick said to me and I have the same feeling, the competition is not yet finished, not for Manchester United or the other teams.

"We have the feeling, and that's because we are winning twice in a row with sparkling football, with goals, clean sheets and against opponents who were in great form after Stoke City played Liverpool off the pitch in the League Cup but then lost on penalties.

"I have said always that only Crystal Palace and Arsenal this season were better than Manchester United this season.

"I have said that so there is nothing different in my feeling. But we have to show in a run of games that you win, because in this competition everything is possible."

United still have five players out injured for the trip to face 13th placed Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, with Bastian Schweinsteiger, Ashley Young, Marcos Rojo, Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia.

But van Gaal believes an improvement in the injury situation has helped his side rediscover some of their early season form which included a run of four wins in five Premier League wins up to mid-October.

"I don't want to hide behind injuries, but when you have five or six injuries in the same position, you cannot hide, and you have to solve problems you cannot solve," he said.

"But players are coming back now. They are fit and I can continue how we started the season. Maybe you remember we were first in the Premier League in that period?

"When you are on a row of four defeats, you can't say that."

England international Shaw is one of United's long-term absentees, having not played since suffering a double leg break in a Champions League tie against PSV Eindhoven in September.

But van Gaal believes the left-back could play again this season and has offered him the incentive of targeting a possible place in the Europa League final in Basel on May 18.

The United manager, whose side faces a last-32 tie in the competition against Danish champions Midtjylland later this month, said: "He can play the final, that is a goal that he has to live for.

"In my opinion it is not impossible. It gives him the spirit to come back."