Newcastle vs Manchester United: Louis van Gaal tips top-four 'rat race' to go down to the wire

Van Gaal believes Arsenal, Tottenham, Liverpool and Southampton are all rivalling United for a top-four finish this season

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Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal expects the battle for Champions League qualification to go right down to the wire.

Van Gaal says his team are involved in a "rat race" with Arsenal, Tottenham, Liverpool and Southampton for the last two Champions League qualification places.

United sit fourth in the standings, one ahead of Southampton and two ahead of Liverpool, who lead Spurs by four points - although the north Londoners have a game in hand.

Van Gaal agrees with Arsene Wenger's claim that the contest will still be alive when United and Arsenal take on Hull and West Brom respectively on the last weekend of the season - although he does not know whether the Arsenal manager was right when he said 72 points would be enough to secure a top-four finish.

 

"I don't think of how many points (it will take), but he is more experienced in the Premier League so I want to believe him," the United manager said.

"But it is going to the last week, I know that."

If Wenger's estimate is right, United will have to win seven and draw one of their last 11 matches.

That will be no easy task given that they have to face five of the other six teams in the top seven before the end of the season.

The Red Devils host Spurs, Manchester City and Arsenal and they also have to travel to Chelsea and Liverpool.

United may have only lost twice in 21 matches but some fans have been unhappy with the slow pace of their play. And during the 2-0 win over Sunderland on Saturday, United fans booed when Jonny Evans played the ball back to goalkeeper David de Gea.

Van Gaal understands the supporters' frustrations but insists passing back to the goalkeeper is sometimes not the worst option for a defender.

"You have to give credit of your doubt to your player and you have to support him," Van Gaal said.

"When you make a mistake in defence it is more or less always a goal against. You have to see that also, the fans have to see that.

"But I agree with the fans that we don't have to use so much the goalkeeper, because I have seen also moments where we can play a higher tempo without interfering with the goalkeeper, but the goalkeeper is also the 11th player."

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Van Gaal waves to the United fans after the 2-0 win over Sunderland

United have received a boost after it emerged their midfielder Ander Herrera will not have to go to Spain to testify in a match-fixing trial until the end of the season.

Herrera is one of 41 people who could be called to appear as witnesses in a case relating to Primera Division matches involving his former club Real Zaragoza towards the end of the 2010-11 season.

The case was due to begin on Thursday, but Press Association reports it has now been put back until June.

Herrera strongly denies any wrongdoing and has vowed to co-operate with the authorities in Spain on the matter.

PA

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