Manchester United’s hopes of Uefa Champions League qualification are growing as their injury list shrinks, and manager Louis van Gaal appears more optimistic now than the man who recently looked set for the sack.
A fourth successive victory was ground out on Wednesday as Van Gaal’s side beat Watford 1-0, moving them to within reach of the Premier League’s top four as they prepare to visit West Bromwich Albion on Sunday.
The two teenagers in United’s starting line-up in midweek both acquitted themselves well, with Marcus Rashford proving more effective when switched from a central attacking role to the right wing for the second half.
In addition, Timothy Fosu-Mensah showed great composure to get through the game at centre-back despite having to play for 67 minutes with a yellow card to his name.
Rashford has made an astonishing start to his career, scoring four goals in his first three games, and that has led to England manager Roy Hodgson suggesting that he could be part of his international squad for Euro 2016.
“I think that Mr Hodgson has answered that question,” Van Gaal said. “It is never too early, I have said that a lot of times. Age is not important. It’s the quality.”
The influx of young players has been made necessary by the fact that United, at one stage, had 14 players out injured; however, those concerns are easing.
With Anthony Martial recovering from a hamstring injury to play the full 90 minutes on Wednesday, Rashford may have to settle for a place among the substitutes at The Hawthorns.
In addition, defender Marcos Rojo has been able to play some part in each of the last three matches after three months out with a dislocated shoulder, while Matteo Darmian recovered from a similar injury to return as a substitute against Watford.
Midfielder Marouane Fellaini and full-back Antonio Valencia are back in full training after injury, with Phil Jones and Bastian Schweinsteiger likely to join them next week.
No one will be rushed back, but Van Gaal is pleased about the prospect of getting key players back as the season approaches its final two months.
“We have closed the gap between ourselves and the top four, and so that has increased our belief,” Van Gaal said.
“I believe we can do it. What is important is that the players believe that too.”
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