Manchester United: How The Club Can Make The Champions League

Marcus Rashford will play a key role for Manchester United as it pursues the Champions League.
Marcus Rashford of Manchester United at Old Trafford, April 16, 2016. Rashford will play a key role for United as it pursues Champions League football. Alex Livesey/Getty

As Manchester United's most uncharacteristic campaign heads into the final straight, manager Louis van Gaal still looks to clinch the coveted Premier League fourth spot and salvage an underwhelming season.

With five games remaining, the Dutchman's side is hot on the heels of two of its greatest rivals, as four points separate United with Manchester City and Arsenal in third and fourth respectively.

With a significantly worse goal difference, United needs to win all its remaining fixtures while requiring both teams to drop five points from as many games.

The run-in includes title-chasing Leicester City travelling to Old Trafford on May 1, before a visit to Carrow Road six days later to face Norwich City, who remain one point above the relegation zone.

Van Gaal's side then faces a trip to the Boleyn Ground, where they beat West Ham United 2-1 last week to reach the semi-final of the FA Cup—but Slaven Bilic's side also has European aspirations, being three points behind United.

A key fixture in the race for the top four comes on the penultimate week of the season when Arsenal and Manchester City face off at the Etihad Stadium on May 8.

While the Gunners can focus on retaining their position among the European elite, a looming Champions League semi-final with Spanish giants Real Madrid may prove a costly distraction for Manuel Pellegrini, the City manager.

Even if Van Gaal does manage to achieve this unlikely target, his team could still find themselves eliminated from the competition before it's even begun. This would come into effect should Liverpool win the Europa League on May 18 and Manchester City lift the Champions League ten days later.

United would automatically be resigned to the Europa League—and, boy, would that hurt.