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Man United's recent form rekindles cautious optimism for top-four finish

Man United manager Louis van Gaal believes that his side have a chance of finishing in the top four following their 1-0 win over Watford.

Thrashing an average team 5-1, beating Arsenal at home, then scoring late to secure a win vs. Watford allowed Manchester United fans to recall what a week in their lives used to be like. United have won four games on the bounce now, something that would have been commonplace a few years ago, but it hasn't happened since September this season.

Louis van Gaal has played the kids, through necessity as much as anything else, and they've done the manager and the club proud.

Outside of United, people hadn't even heard of Marcus Rashford a month ago, yet now there is debate over whether he should be in the England squad for Euro 2016.

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Van Gaal, when asked whether he believed Roy Hodgson should be looking at Rashford, employed the same stance of Sir Matt Busby, who famously claimed, "If they're good enough, they're old enough." United's current manager said that Rashford's age wasn't important and that it was "never too early" for a player to be given a chance.

Wayne Rooney, who was previously undroppable when fit, will be keeping a close eye on the progress of Anthony Martial and Rashford, the two most exciting players to watch in the squad at the moment. Memphis Depay, who seems to keep leaving his shooting boots at home, could also be mentioned. Their fearlessness when attacking -- trying audacious moves and thinking nothing of trying to run between two defenders -- is a joy to behold, and the complete opposite of the boring football fans at Old Trafford have been forced to endure for most of the season.

The problem is, as enjoyable as they will find watching their kids stop Arsenal from being title favourites, or to watch Juan Mata take a perfect free kick to win a game when filling in as captain, they have no idea how long the feeling will last. Maybe the moment is appreciated all the more then, but it's always slightly tainted, as a bad day doesn't feel far off.

Past experience should tell fans that whenever they start to enjoy the football again, something horrible is around the corner. Looking at this season alone, going top of the table in November was followed by eight winless matches, and beating Liverpool for the fourth occasion in a row was followed by losing at home to Southampton.

Many supporters were probably expecting the bubble to burst against Watford. Even though United hardly set the world alight, they got the three points to take them level with Manchester City, albeit having played a game more.

Marcus Rashford has been a revelation for Man United and could complicate team selection when Wayne Rooney returns.

A couple of months ago, United would have probably lost that Watford game, and maybe it was just luck that meant they didn't. Watford certainly had the better chances, even if United dominated possession. But there's something different about this team at the moment, with them working so much harder than they were earlier in the season.

When you consider that United had played five games in fewer than a fortnight, with 14 players injured meaning little to no possibility of rotation, their recent winning streak is all the more impressive.

Van Gaal has confirmed that Phil Jones, Antonio Valencia and Marouane Fellaini are possibilities for Sunday's game against West Brom, although he may opt to give them a run out for the U-21s first. United fans will be reluctant to see the current winning formula messed about with, while also recognising it's important to keep the starting XI players fresh.

West Brom haven't had great form at home, losing to City, Chelsea, Leicester, Everton and Bournemouth, but they managed a home win against Arsenal and a draw with Tottenham.

With little to play for other than pride, seeing as though they don't have to fear relegation, United may be the hungrier side for a win. Although they have Darren Fletcher as their captain, a player who will ensure his team roll over for no one, let alone his former club. Jonny Evans, who followed Fletcher to West Brom in the summer, is unlikely to feature due to a hamstring injury, and will be disappointed not to have the opportunity to show Van Gaal what he is capable of.

Every game is a must-win for United, as their hopes of finishing in the top four are just about alive still. With tougher games on the horizon, this should be one of the more realistic ones for United to pick up maximum points.

Scott is a season-ticket holder from Manchester who set up The Republik of Mancunia in 2006. Follow him on Twitter @R_o_M.

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