By Michael Hann
Out of the FA Cup and with Champions League qualification hanging in the balance, Manchester United’s season reaches a pivotal stage in the Premier League on Sunday at home to Tottenham Hotspur.
United were knocked out of the Cup by Arsenal in the quarter-finals on Monday, a result which effectively ended their hopes of major silverware for the second season in a row.
Finishing in the top four and qualifying for Europe’s top tier competition is now considered essential but United’s 10-game run-in to the end of the season also includes matches against Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal.
Fourth-placed United, who have 53 points from 28 matches, hold a slender two-point advantage over resurgent Liverpool, while Spurs are a further point back in sixth.
Tottenham have won at Old Trafford in the last two seasons having not previously tasted victory there since 1989 and they are unbeaten against United in their last five meetings.
The Manchester side can ill-afford another loss to Mauricio Pochettino’s team but, after defeat by Arsenal exposed their much-discussed flaws, manager Louis van Gaal knows his side must recover quickly with a top-four finish at stake.
“All the players are very disappointed and that’s logical,” the Dutchman said after the Arsenal defeat. “We have to see how we recover from that.
“I can’t say the motivation of the team was bad — it’s always good. We showed fantastic fighting spirit again.
“This is a big blow for us but we are sportsmen, so we have to recover.”
Champions Manchester City travel to relegation-threatened Burnley in Saturday’s late kick-off knowing they must not allow leaders Chelsea to extend their five-point lead at the top.
Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea side host Southampton on the back of their surprise Champions League defeat on away goals by Paris St Germain at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.
Third-placed Arsenal welcome London rivals West Ham United to the Emirates on Saturday hoping to give themselves a bit of breathing space from the teams battling it out for fourth.
Liverpool are the side to beat on current form, however, as Brendan Rodgers’s team are unbeaten in the league since mid-December and are ready to pounce if United falter.
They travel to ninth-placed Swansea City on Monday, hoping to record their third win of the season against the Welsh side after beating them at Anfield in the league and League Cup.