How high in the Premier League can Manchester United finish?
By Nick Wright
Last Updated: 06/03/16 12:07pm
Things are looking up for Manchester United after Wednesday's 1-0 win over Watford moved them level on points with fourth-placed Manchester City and boosted their chances of Champions League qualification.
Juan Mata's stunning winner against the Hornets came just three days after Louis van Gaal's injury-hit side secured a 3-2 victory over Arsenal at Old Trafford. It is the first time since November that they have claimed back-to-back league wins, and optimism is in the air after weeks of doom and gloom.
Van Gaal insists United are still taking things "step by step", but just how high can they finish? We take a look at their prospects ahead of their Super Sunday clash with West Brom live on Sky Sports…
Premier League top six 2015/16
While United will be hoping to build some momentum on the back of their last two results, the fact remains that they have taken just 47 points from their first 28 games of the season. Ten consecutive wins would put them on 77 points, but if they continue at the same rate, they will finish the season on 64.
That total would be six points lower than their tally in 2014/15, when it only would have been enough for a fifth-placed finish. It might be a different story this season given the struggles of the Premier League's big sides, but Van Gaal will still be hoping for considerable improvement.
So what are United's chances of continuing their recent upturn in form in their remaining games? On paper, their run-in looks tricky. The Red Devils still have to travel to Man City, Tottenham and West Ham, and they also face potentially difficult home clashes against Everton and leaders Leicester.
Average position of remaining Premier League opponents
|Team||Avg position of opponents|
The average position of their remaining opponents (9.8) is higher than any of the top four, but on the plus side their fixtures throw up plenty of opportunities to close the gap on the teams above them. United can also take heart from their impressive record against teams in the top half of the table.
More ominously, however, is that United took just 16 points from a possible 30 in the reverse fixtures of their remaining games - winning four, drawing four and losing two. Repeat results would see them finish the season on just 63 points.
Potential fixture worry?
Another potential issue facing United is fixture congestion. Van Gaal's side face Liverpool in the next round of the Europa League and host West Ham in the FA Cup quarter-finals over the next fortnight, meaning they could have as many as 11 cup games to play as well as their remaining Premier League games before the season is out.
Potential remaining games (including possible FA Cup replays)
Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City also have domestic and European commitments to consider, but Leicester have a clear run in the league having been knocked out of the FA Cup earlier this season.
A hectic fixture list could take its toll on United's depleted squad. Their injury crisis has forced Van Gaal to promote youngsters from their academy in recent weeks, and according to Physio Room they currently have 11 first-team players out injured.
The number of absentees limits Van Gaal's options when it comes to squad rotation, so he'll need the likes of Chris Smalling, Wayne Rooney, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Phil Jones to recover as quickly as possible.
There are plenty of obstacles facing United in the final months of the season, and Van Gaal is right to be cautious. But if they can deliver more big results against their closest rivals and get some of their injured first-teamers back into action, they'll have a chance of climbing the table. A third consecutive Premier League win against West Brom on Super Sunday would provide a platform to build on.
Herrera targets top four
Ander Herrera says Manchester United will fight until the end for a place in the top four.
Where do you think Manchester United will finish? Leave us a comment below or let us know on Twitter @SkyFootball.
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