West Brom defeat leaves further uncertainty for Van Gaal
As Manchester United slipped to a third successive league defeat, for the first time in over 13 years, The Red Devils qualification for next season's Champions League has been thrown into doubt.
Having defeated Liverpool at Anfield back in March, Louis van Gaal's men seemed assured of a top four finish. Even moreso having toppled their rivals from across the city.
However, after slipping to defeats at Goodison Park and Stamford Bridge, their position seemed procarious. That has now manifested into real worry for the United faithful, after Tony Pulis beat Manchester United for the first time in his managerial career, inflicting a loss on United and with West Brom picking up three points few expected. This also meant for the second season on the bounce, that The Baggies had left Old Trafford with the spoils.
United now sit with only a four-point cushion over Liverpool in fifth and with a trip to Selhurst Park on Saturday evening to contemplate, if they were to go to South London and not win - which has more than a chnace if occuring, with Van Gaal's troops having not scored in all three losses - they would then face the rather daunting prospect of facing the Premier League's in-form side in Arsenal, the following weekend, albeit at Old Trafford.
For United, even ending the campaign in fourth would mean a two-legged qualifier for the group stages, to be dining once more at European football's elite dining table of football. But next season, with UEFA shaking up the seedings, United may face a more trickier prospect than their rivals have in the past. However United merely want that opportunity.
Even for United to let fourth slip, LIverpool would need to improve their win ratio, with Brendan Rodgers men having lost three of the last five outings. With a trip to newly-crowned champions Chelsea this weekend, there is the faint prospect for Liverpool that Chelsea may be distracted with celebrations on the horizon, with surely now the mere formalities of finishing the campaign.
For United, it seemed set for this summer to be the period when Louis van Gaal started the strengthening process after the initial rebuild after assessing what was already at the Dutchman's disposal. With their status as a 'top-four side' in jeopardy however, so too is Van Gaal's masterplan, with the lure of Champions League football on offer.
With Brendan Rodgers under fire from certains corners of the Liverpool fanbase, the Northern Irishman could have been gifted a reprieve after their shock FA Cup semi-final defeat to Aston Villa. For Rodgers and Liverpool, the golden carrot above their head gleams even brighter as an incentive. But can they grab it?