Louis van Gaal warned that Manchester United must brace themselves for a 60-game season after insisting they remain alive in three competitions following a narrow 1-0 victory against Watford.
Juan Mata’s 83rd minute free-kick sealed a hard-fought win against Quique Sanchez Flores’ team, who dominated for lengthy spells and missed a series of chances.
But with United now level on points with fourth-placed Manchester City and preparing for FA Cup and Europa League ties against West Ham and Liverpool respectively, Van Gaal admitted that his injury-hit squad must somehow cope with the demanding workload ahead.
“This victory tastes very good, especially when your competitors have lost,” Van Gaal said. “But when you see the statistics, and how many players are injured, you then see how difficult it was.
“We still have the possibility to be in the first four of the league, we are in the FA Cup quarter-finals and the last 16 of the Europa League, so it is not bad.
“But is means we have a full programme and we could play 60 matches.
“We only played 55 games at Bayern Munich when we reached the Champions League Final [in 2010], but we still have to find somewhere to play the Crystal Palace and West Ham games in the league.
“We are fighting and we are struggling, but in the struggle, we can play fantastic matches, as we did against Arsenal and Midtjylland.”
Van Gaal, who revealed that matchwinner Mata was almost substituted with an injury before scoring his free-kick, praised his player for overcoming difficult circumstances to win the game.
“I don’t think it is an ugly win because the free-kick was a fantastic shot by Mata,” Van Gaal said. “But the performance was not so good.
“It was because of the circumstances. The weather made it difficult to play good football and it became a very physical game.
“And when you see the Watford players against ours, it is not in our favour. It is not so easy to win these games.”
Van Gaal played down suggestions that United could still challenge in the title race after moving to within ten points of leaders Leicester, however.
“We have to go step by step I think,” Van Gaal said. “We now have four wins in a row, which is fantastic, but we have a very small selection and the same problems as three weeks ago.
“Players are coming back, but I have to solve a different problem every week in my line-up.”