MANCHESTER, May 3- Louis van Gaal admits Manchester United are locked in a “rat race” for a place in next season’s Champions League after a surprising 1-0 home defeat to West Brom allowed rivals Liverpool to move to within four points.
United have now lost three consecutive league games for the first time in over 13 years and failed to score over the same span for the first time since August 2007, a sequence that has seen van Gaal’s team go four hours and 45 minutes without a goal.
“Maybe you remember all my press conferences when I said it will be a rat race until the very end,” said van Gaal whose side are fourth in the table.
“I was the only one because we were seven points ahead at the time.
“But I said it was still possible (being caught). I’m aware of that and my players shall be aware of that. It was unlucky but this is the third match in a row we lost and we didn’t score.
“It’s now in the hands of my players. We have to work very hard to keep their confidence up because we have everything in our own hands. We are four points ahead but our goal is a now a little bit more difficult than before.
“It’s what you expected already before the game. They parked the bus and then it’s always difficult to attack because you have a lot of bodies in front of you. But we have to improve. Improve in creating chances? No. Improve in finishing.”
United enjoyed astonishing statistics of 80 per cent possession and a 26-6 shot count but poor finishing, and a superb display by Albion goalkeeper Moaz Byhill, thwarted them.
“You can see that Everton (who beat United 3-0 last week) also had a very defensive organisation against us and they were the home team; Chelsea at home had a very defensive organisation against us,” added the United manager.
“So while you expect teams to come here with defensive organisation, they’re also defending like that in our away matches. But we have to improve against that and that’s the next step in our process.”
Saturday’s game-winning free-kick, a Chris Brunt shot deflected in off team mate Jonas Olsson, handed Albion the lead but after 73 minutes Saido Berahino was harshly judged to have handled an Antonio Valencia cross in the area and referee Anthony Taylor awarded the home side a penalty.
Robin van Persie’s effort was superbly saved by Myhill, ensuring Albion the victory that will almost certainly keep them in the Premier League.
“I went mad before the game because one of the lads had his phone out and was looking at the results,” said Albion manager Tony Pulis whose team was put under added pressure by victories for key relegation rivals earlier in the day.
“It’s a very difficult time of day to play because results are coming through and lads get a bit distracted. They had enough on their plate without knowing results.
“We worry far too much about things we can’t affect. You should concentrate on what you can affect.”