Van Gaal knows that if United pick up maximum points against Norwich, West Ham and Bournemouth they will have a chance of leapfrogging neighbours Manchester City into the Premier League’s top four, with Crystal Palace waiting in the FA Cup final after that.
A Champions League spot and a first piece of major silverware since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013 would ease some of the pressure on Van Gaal, meaning the stakes are high from the moment United kick off at Carrow Road on Saturday lunchtime.
Asked to ponder the implications of falling short, the Dutchman said:
“I cannot afford it and Manchester United cannot afford it, but in sport you can win and lose.
“It’s hard to accept, but it is the truth.
“We have to win our matches because otherwise we cannot be in the first four — that’s the pressure that we have. We have to fight until the end.
“We are always able to do that, I think, that’s my belief, because of our quality.
“I want to win the [FA Cup] also, not only the [Champions League] qualification, because I think the FA Cup is a very important title in England.
“The pressure is high for everybody but also for Norwich because they have to win otherwise they can say goodbye to the Premier League.”
A challenge for United is that the Norwich and West Ham’s matches are both away from home, and van Gaal’s side has struggled away from the friendly confines of Old Trafford. Based on away form this season, United are 11th with only 6 wins and 7 defeats.
But with City playing Arsenal this weekend, United have a chance to really put the pressure on their noisy neighbors, and move to within a point of City before they meet Arsenal on Sunday.