In a declaration of confidence, Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag hailed his side’s crucial 2-1 triumph at Aston Villa on Sunday late afternoon. 

Speaking to ManUtd.com, the Dutchman highlighted United’s first victory at Villa Park since May 2021 as a ‘massive win,’ with his side slicing the gap between themselves and fifth-placed Villa to five points.

Fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur is six points off, but with confidence renewed at Old Trafford after a third consecutive Premier League triumph, there’s this overwhelming sense of optimism in town.

Not long ago, bookmakers handed the Red Devils only 9/1 to secure a second top-four finish on the trot, but the narrative has changed in light of recent successes.

Just as Ten Hag’s future at the Theatre of Dreams came under heavy scrutiny, United’s renaissance has consolidated the 54-year-old’s position at the helm.

More importantly, the team’s mini-revival has rekindled their lofty top-flight ambitions. 

Following a commendable performance in a 3-0 rout of West Ham United, Scott McTominay’s towering header fired Man Utd to a morale-boosting win in the Midlands, setting them up nicely for upcoming challenges.

In addition to the Scotland international’s heroics, United fans got to enjoy another sublime Rasmus Hojlund performance, with the marquee summer signing continuing to tear apart Premier League backlines.

Ex-United legend Peter Schmeichel praised his countryman in an interview with talkSPORT, calling him a ‘special’ talent. 

With Ten Hag steadfast in his belief the resurgent Red Devils can claw their way back into a fiercely-contested top-four race, a trip to Luton Town could be what the doctor ordered to stay the course.

Now, without further ado, let’s examine Man Utd’s top-four chances. 

Villa out of the way

As aforementioned, Ten Hag’s troops trail fifth-placed Villa by five points, yet Unai Emery’s men seem to be losing their footing after a sensational Premier League start.

Three successive home defeats, including a 3-1 FA Cup thumping at the hands of Chelsea, after going unbeaten in Birmingham for almost a year, perhaps best illustrates Villa’s descent into chaos. 

Unlike Man Utd, the Lions still have to navigate European commitments after making it out of the Europa Conference League group stages, which could derail their domestic prospects.

Tottenham – a rival to beat

In contrast to Villa’s downturn in form at the start of the new calendar year, Tottenham’s quest to secure their first top-four finish since 2021/22 is picking up steam.

Ange Postecoglou’s side is unbeaten in five straight Premier League outings since a 4-2 thrashing to Brighton & Hove Albion at the tail-end of 2023.

Despite alternating between winning and drawing during that five-game stretch, Spurs have established themselves as the most valid contenders for the last Champions League qualification spot.

Already out of other domestic competitions, the North London outfit can focus on getting their top-four pursuit over the line without unnecessary distractions, making them a fierce opponent to United’s seasonal goal.

Two must-win games waiting in the wings

For anyone keeping track of tips and forecasts for today’s football games, Man Utd’s visit to Kenilworth Road to encounter Luton appears as a textbook definition of a ‘must-win’ contest.

Embroiled in a dreaded relegation scrap, Rob Edwards’ men pulled off a stunning 4-0 win against Brighton a fortnight ago, issuing a warning to anyone visiting their home ground that they were not to be underestimated.

However, the Red Devils can’t afford a slip-up in this showdown, and neither can they drop points the following weekend when they entertain mid-table Fulham at Old Trafford.

Ten Hag’s team defeated both clubs in reverse fixtures via an identical 1-0 scoreline and will be out to complete a season double against each, with the Manchester derby coming up next.

Opportunity to make a statement

If there’s a side capable of knocking Man Utd off their perch, it’s perennial champions Manchester City.

Pep Guardiola’s high-flyers have gone from strength to strength in 2024, not to mention they humbled United 3-0 at Old Trafford in October’s one-sided derby.

But if Ten Hag’s men can build on their form resurgence and upset the apple cart at the Etihad Stadium, it could prove a potentially season-defining moment for the 20-time Premier League champions.