'We have to win, we need to win'- FA Cup of no concern to Louis Van Gaal ahead of Crystal Palace clash
Even with Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final against Everton looming large, Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal dare not look past the visit of Crystal Palace tomorrow for a league encounter that may well determine his future at Old Trafford.
The race for the desperately coveted and considerably lucrative fourth Champions League place has almost been resigned to an afterthought, with most eyes firmly fixated on the fortunes of the unlikely title chasing duo of Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City.
Yet, with Manchester City, United, Arsenal and West Ham all, to varying degrees, vying for the remaining two spots, a worthwhile and dramatic subplot may be afoot.
City have provided their rivals with an unexpected window of opportunity after their 1-1 draw with Newcastle on Tuesday night. They are now just a point ahead of Arsenal and five in front of United.
The Hammers, currently three points adrift of United, will play Watford - who are long-since assured of their safety - as Van Gaal’s men entertain Palace.
Arsenal, who are fourth on goal difference, will meet West Brom on Thursday. The Londoners’ are in real need of a convincing win, particularly amid suggestions that their fans are planning a mass protest against Arsene Wenger.
Van Gaal is acutely aware of the gravity of what could transpire over the next 48 hours.
"I have always an eye on the schedule of my team and I have to look if the load is not an overload for players,” he said.
"But this game against Crystal Palace is very important. We have to win, we need to win, otherwise we cannot close the gap. You can only give pressure by winning, so we can only look at ourselves."
Yet United, as prone as they are to inexplicably dour showings, are taking on a Palace outfit that only managed their first league win of 2016 11 days ago against Norwich.
In the interim, they have drawn twice, against Everton and Arsenal, and are now in 16th place, though without any legitimate risk of the drop. They too are in the last four of the FA Cup and meet Watford on Sunday.
Van Gaal has been vocal in his desire to maintain the record of winning a trophy at every club he's ever managed, while the spectre of Jose Mourinho is near ubiquitous as he continues to field questions regarding his position on a daily basis.
Even so, the former Ajax boss is unmoved by any of these factors, so much so that he has no intention of fielding an understrength side so as to preserve his most indispensable charges for the weekend.
"For us it is too important to rotate because of freshness for the semi-final. For me, now, the most important thing is to beat Crystal Palace. To speak about the semi-final against Everton isn't appropriate."
"I cannot predict, that's why you have to win your own games and then you shall see, but the experience in the Premier League is that our competitors are losing also."
Additional reporting from PA