Louis van Gaal is trying to remain grounded as Manchester United target the top four.

Louis van Gaal staying grounded after fourth straight Manchester United win

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Louis van Gaal is continuing to take it "step by step" despite the upturn in fortunes edging Manchester United towards the top four.

Doom, gloom and speculation about the manager's future was replaced by positivity last week, with wins against Shrewsbury, FC Midtjylland and Arsenal complemented by teenager Marcus Rashford's remarkable emergence.

It looked as if the negativity would return, though, as Watford threatened to upset the home faithful yesterday, only for Juan Mata's late free-kick to secure a fourth successive win in all competitions.

The strike was as classy as it was important given it secured a 1-0 win that moved injury-hit United level on points with fourth-placed Manchester City, who have a game in hand as well as a superior goal difference.

"We have to go step by step, I think," Van Gaal said when asked about his side's top-four hopes.

"Of course we have now four victories in a row, it is fantastic, but we have a very small selection at the moment.

"We have the same problems as three weeks ago. Players are coming back but still I have to solve a problem every week in my line-up, so when players are coming back, they are not fit enough.

"You see how (Marcos) Rojo is struggling. I gave (him time in recent games) and I have to do that in matches in the Premier League. It is better to do in the second team but I am forced to do that.

"I think we are doing great the last four matches but still we have to go step by step."

A trip to West Brom on Sunday now awaits as Van Gaal's men continue to wade through a testing, fixture-heavy period.

Anthony Martial and Matteo Darmian's return against Watford were timely boosts, but United remain without a host of key players at this crucial period.

Watford will feel they were unfortunate to lose after dominating large patches of the match.

Odion Ighalo came close on a number of occasions in the first half, with Sebastian Prodl threatening from set pieces as Watford continued to impress after the break.

The inability to score was punished by Mata in the 83rd minute, but Watford boss Quique Sanchez Flores was philosophical

"It is football," he said. "It is England, it happens every weekend.

"This place it is possible to happen. I think we played well but finally individual quality decided the match."

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