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Louis van Gaal called on his Manchester United squad to believe that they can reach the Barclays Premier League top four as they look to make it five straight victories in all competitions when they face West Bromwich Albion on Sunday.
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Back-to-back league wins over Arsenal and Watford – combined with Manchester City’s run of three consecutive top-flight defeats – have catapulted United back into the race for a UEFA Champions League spot that previously appeared to be out of reach.
Van Gaal’s team are now three points behind fourth-placed Man City, having played one match more and also sit within five points of Arsene Wenger’s Gunners in third.
But despite the recent turnaround, a victory is not a formality – West Brom have lost only two of the last six league matches against United, who have only won one of their previous seven top-flight away matches.
United are nine unbeaten at The Hawthorns, though, which is the only time a BPL team has gone nine or more away fixtures against one opponent at the same venue without suffering a loss.
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“When you see that we close the gap on the top four a little bit then your belief shall raise,” said Van Gaal. “I am talking to my players and saying that they need to believe in that. I believe in that, but they need to believe in it as well.
“A title is [worth] more than fourth. But the Champions League is also our aim and we get that by winning the Europa League or finishing fourth. We have to beat West Bromwich Albion and that will not be easy.
“Last year we played there and drew, so it is not an easy opponent and at home we also lost against them. But we won at home this season and we hope to also win on Sunday.”
That 2-0 win came in November for United, whose supporters are hoping Chris Smalling (shoulder) will be passed fit to play, while Van Gaal is reluctant to risk Marouane Fellaini, Phil Jones and Antonio Valencia until they have played for the Under-21 side first, although they are in contention if required.
West Brom, meanwhile, are without Jonny Evans (hamstring) against his former club, as well as Chris Brunt (knee), James Morrison (hamstring) and Callum McManaman (foot).
Tony Pulis’ hosts are on a good run having lost just twice in their last 10 league outings, a streak that has given them a 12-point cushion over the bottom three as they sit in 13th position.
“If we can get to 40 points in the next few games [West Brom have 36], we will then try to get more points than the club has ever got in this league,” said Pulis. “They [United] are a good side, they have got some good players. We know it will be a tough game, they have had a great result again on Wednesday so they will come full of confidence.
“It is just making sure the players enjoy the challenge. The big thing is to enjoy it. The last three league games, we have won at Everton, beaten Crystal Palace and then had a good draw at Leicester. The last two games, Leicester and Palace, have been full of goals as well so it keeps everybody quiet.”
West Bromwich Albion (from): Foster, Myhill, Rose, Chester, Dawson, Gamboa, McAuley, O’Neil, Olsson, Pocognoli, Fletcher, Gardner, McClean, Pritchard, Sandro, Sessegnon, Yacob, Anichebe, Berahino, Lambert, Rondon.
Manchester United (from): De Gea, Romero, Darmian, Jones, McNair, Rojo, Fosu-Mensah, Smalling, Valencia, Varela, Riley, Weir, Blind, Carrick, Rothwell, Fellaini, Herrera, Januzaj, Lingard, Mata, Pereira, Schneiderlin, Depay, Martial, Rashford.
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