Crystal Palace at home, Arsenal away, Hull City at home and Stoke City at home.
Not the most daunting of fixture lists for most Manchester United sides of the past two decades, but for this United team it could prove season-defining.
Any hope of a premiership title seem long-gone, but the very fair and realistic expectation of top-four is still well within United’s reach. To keep it that way, United has to go on a run of wins.
With three home matches on the horizon, this weekend’s fixture against Crystal Palace seems the perfect place to start.
Arsenal away is always a big occasion, but recent performances against Chelsea and Manchester City has proven this team is one capable of handling those sorts of games, even if the results procured from them have been less than ideal.
Nine points is the absolute minimum United has to take from the next four matches.
Really, 10 is the minimum van Gaal should be happy with.
Such a tally would set United up well heading into the busy Christmas period.
There are hurdles to overcome, however, particularly in defence and it is perhaps those hurdles that have stopped United from going on the winning run it needs to thus far.
Injuries and suspension have proven a constant thorn in van Gaal’s side this season.
Chris Smalling’s stupidity last week which saw him sent off for two bookings in the space of nine minutes was a crushing blow given how well United rallied with just 10 men on the pitch, but there was a silver lining in young Paddy McNair.
The teen defender was unfortunate to suffer an injury after a hugely impressive debut against Everton in which he brilliantly shackled Romelu Lukaku but bounced back brilliantly under immense pressure against City as a substitute.
He did lose Sergio Aguero for City’s winner, but so have a lot more experienced and accomplished defenders.
Michael Carrick also impressed at the back and what he lacks in natural defenders instincts he makes up for in his smart use of possession.
Should the somewhat unfamiliar duo get the nod, you’d back them in against a Crystal Palace side which has struggled this season.
The reality is, even with all the selection issues, mediocre results over the last two weeks have only been tolerated because of the quality of opposition faced.
Anything less than a win against Palace would be hard to justify, particularly at home.
Arsenal away, as previously mentioned, is a different story, but the Gunners have endured a pretty frustrating season themselves to this point.
That might be rich to point out from a United perspective, but nevertheless there is an undeniable frailty about Arsenal van Gaal will know his side can expose.
A win would be a massive step forward for van Gaal’s United psychologically and more importantly it would be a huge gain on the top four.
A point would be satisfactory, while a loss, whilst perhaps understandable, would be a big blow given the gap it could open up.
The last two seasons have taught many United fans that there is no such thing as a sure thing, even at Old Trafford, even against Hull or Stoke City, but three points is going to have to become a sure thing if the Reds are to control their own destiny.
United’s direct rivals for a top-four spot are, in order, Southampton, City, Arsenal, West Ham United, Swansea, Liverpool, Tottenham and Everton – all of whom are ahead of United as it stands.
The Reds are only four points off, but a failure to pick up nine or 10 points over the next month could be disastrous given the fixtures United’s direct competitors face:
SOUTHAMPTON: Leicester City, Aston Villa, Manchester City*, Arsenal*
MANCHESTER CITY: Queens Park Rangers, Swansea City*, Southampton*, Sunderland
ARSENAL: Swansea City*, Manchester United*, West Brom, Southampton*
WEST HAM UNITED: Aston Villa, Everton*, Newcastle United, West Brom
SWANSEA CITY: Arsenal*, Manchester City*, Crystal Palace, Queens Park Rangers
LIVERPOOL: Chelsea*, Crystal Palace, Stoke City, Leicester City
TOTTENHAM: Stoke City, Hull City, Everton*, Chelsea*
EVERTON: Sunderland, West Ham United, Tottenham*, Hull City* denotes top-10 team
Manchester United faces one top-10 side in the next four rounds, while most others have at least two, meaning direct competitors are going to take plenty of points off each other.
United faces in-form Southampton, Liverpool and Tottenham in the five games that follow the next four, meaning points won in the next month become even more crucial.
The last thing United needs is to be going into those matches under any more pressure than necessary.
The talent is there to secure the necessary results and now is the time for van Gaal’s side to come good on that potential.