Five players who could be crucial for Manchester United's top four run-in
With eight matches to go for the 2014-15 Premier League season to end, the race for the top four has heated up perfectly to promise an upcoming spell of enthralling football. Where Jose Mourinho's Chelsea are threatening to seal the title by first week of May, the other clubs following suit in race for European Champions League finish have upped the tempo.
Manchester City, who lie at second have been unpredictable and possess a scenario of losing their place to Arsenal and Manchester United who aren’t far behind. These four teams are likely to finish in the top four but there may be a sudden shift of ranks within those places. An element of surprise from Liverpool and Tottenham can't be ruled out as a string of results could change the positions severely.
Liverpool's agonising loss against Manchester United last Sunday at Anfield, opened up a gap of five points between the two sides. The victory for United at their rival's den made Louis van Gaal say it was one of the most important win of his career and he was right.
After a season of vulnerability despite some scratchy wins, United were threatening to lose the grasp of Champions League football, but two high-profile victories against Spurs and Liverpool within two weeks show a similar zeal of peaking towards the fag end of the season which was so familiar under former manager Sir Alex Ferguson. Louis van Gaal's much-talked about philosophy is coming to fruitfulness as his vision of a possession based build-up is taking shape.
Contrasting to last season, United have completed a double swoop over Liverpool, and picked up four points from available six against Spurs. Last season under David Moyes saw them collect nothing from these four games.
United face Aston Villa at home on April 4 after the international break which will be followed by three decisive fixtures. A home game against Manchester City before visits to Stamford Bridge and Goodison Park loom for Van Gaal. Another home fixture against high-flying Arsenal in May could prove to be the ultimate showdown.
Though defensively the team still looks vulnerable, the partnership of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling at the centre is slowly settling in well after so many different combinations used all season due to injuries. With the unavailability of Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney's shift back to the forward line is paying dividends.
The best thing to happen for United is a more settled midfield which looks more sure on the ball and compact together as it was evident against Spurs and Liverpool.
We look at five players that are turning out to be vital for Louis van Gaal and can swing the momentum further for a top four run-in.
Juan Mata: The Spanish international wasn't in Louis van Gaal's starting line-up for majority part of the season, but a recall against Tottenham Hotspur worked wonders. Mata's resurgence took shape against Spurs at Old Trafford in the right side of a 4-3-3 formation and excelled against Liverpool a week later at Anfield, by scoring a brace that included an acrobatic volley to hand Manchester United a crucial victory.
The Spaniard took most of the opportunities in Angel Di Maria's absence and now threatens to put the latter on the bench given his lack of form. Louis van Gaal stated Mata is one of his favourite players and the creative forward will look to pay the dividends of his manager's faith further. Mata has altogether featured in 25 EPL matches this term and his match-winning abilities could help United secure more points on the road.
Daley Blind: The Dutch international has been one of the brightest players for Manchester United this season after joining from Ajax in the summer. Blind's versatility is an added boost for Louis van Gaal. His ability to make fine passes, score crucial goals and run the game smoothly makes him a sort of player United require for several years to come.
Blind has managed to impress one and all so far but the job remains unfinished. He has played in the midfield role consistently and is currently enjoying his role in the left back position and has been pivotal against Spurs and Liverpool this month. With tough fixtures on the road, Blind's interceptions and clever runs will be crucial for United's fortunes. He will look to be an important asset against Manchester City and Chelsea.
Michael Carrick: The United faithful has been unlucky this season after injuries ruled him out for a majority part of the season. With him United look more calm and there is a tempo in the game that was lacking in between. Carrick has been instrumental for United all these years and his serenity over the ball mixed with sharpness and clever passing is becoming a vital asset for Louis van Gaal.
Carrick was the master in midfield against both Spurs and Liverpool and if he can remain fit, he will be influential in United's remaining eight fixtures. The defensive midfielder was awarded a one-year contract extension and has lived up to van Gaal's expectations. Carrick has featured in just 16 matches this season and will look to end the season on a high.
David de Gea: The Spaniard has been Manchester United's shining light in a season of mixed fortunes. Louis van Gaal will be delighted and grateful at the same time that his team has one of the world's best goalkeepers, who has been emphatic in helping United remain in the top four.
De Gea has single-handedly saved United from sticky situations throughout the season and has won matches for them. With 80 saves, 10 clean sheets and 15 clearances so far this term, De Gea has already established himself as the best player in United's season. Despite an irregular defence in front of him, De Gea has been rock solid. Louis van Gaal will expect more business from him when the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea take on against United next month.
Marouane Fellaini: The Belgian international continues to rise in stature at Manchester United and his presence in the team has been crucial for United's present situation. Fellaini continued his remarkable job against Tottenham and Liverpool in the last two weeks to hand United much-needed victories and deliver a statement for a place in the last four.
The player who looked out of sorts last season has been a bright prospect for United alongside Ashley Young and carries all sorts of threat especially in the air which has been visible regularly. Van Gaal is using Fellaini positively in order to open up chances and be pivotal physically. Fellaini has managed to score four goals this term in EPL and Louis van Gaal will need some more from the giant Belgian.