Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal has conceded that he might not be able to guide his side to Champions League qualification this season.
The Red Devils have had a turbulent start to the campaign but have found their feet of late, winning their last four games on the spin to propel them up to fourth place in the Premier League.
It will be a good weekend indeed for Van Gaal's hopes of returning his team back to Europe's biggest club competition if they can pick up a result against Southampton tomorrow, with Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham all dropping points yesterday. West Ham's win over Swansea does elevate them temporarily over Manchester United however.
Despite everything seemingly going in Van Gaal's favour at the moment the Dutch coach remains pessimistic about their chances of a top four finish. "No, I don't now expect to qualify for the Champions League because it is at the end of the season that counts," he said.
"Now doesn't count. We are going the right way, despite the injuries we've had. And I think the important thing is that the players want to follow the philosophy, which is why - despite the many changes - we could continue to go the right way."
The Manchester United manager's opinion is at odds with that of executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, who earlier in the season admitted that a third-place finish is the goal. "We assume third [place] in our budgets,” he said when asked about the Reds’ expectations for this season when quizzed in September.
If Van Gaal is unable to deliver that then it is likely to cause some friction in the corridors of power at Old Trafford. Helping Manchester United in their quest for Champions League football is the lack of mid-week action following their failure to qualify for Europe under David Moyes last season.
"I knew in advance that we would have most midweeks off through not being in the Champions League," he explained. "But this was the challenge for me and why I am here. I had choices - I could have chosen four other clubs.
"I knew, though, that this is a big challenge. Of course it is. It is not so easy, but I accept that."