Manchester United are in optimistic mood as they travel to Burnley on Saturday, having spent the week closing in on the signing of Alexis Sanchez, and with Jose Mourinho close to agreeing a new contract.
The build-up to the game at Turf Moor has been dominated by the pursuit of Chile forward Sanchez, with Arsenal willing to sell a player who would otherwise have left for nothing at the end of this season.
United’s chances of winning the league this season still look remote, but they have reduced Manchester City’s lead at the top to 12 points after beating Stoke 3-0 on Monday.
Anthony Martial overcame a minor knock to start and score in that game, his second goal of 2018, and both he and Romelu Lukaku are showing signs of rediscovering a clinical touch after a difficult end to 2017.
Lukaku has scored in each of his past two matches, following the second goal in the FA Cup third-round win over Derby on January 5 with the third against Stoke.
That may have encouraged Mourinho to extend his stay beyond June 2019, when his current contract expires.
Negotiations over a new deal have been progressing well in recent weeks, and it is understood that Mourinho will soon commit to signing it, giving the club an extra sense of stability as they seek to put a little more pressure on City.
United defender Luke Shaw said: “We want to make it a really good second half of the season. There are so many games coming up and any player that goes into the team is ready.
“There is a lot to play for with the World Cup coming up as well. A lot of players want to impress their national managers.
“Personally, I want to try to play as many games as possible to help United and also, if I can, state my case to go to the World Cup.”
Mourinho will once again be without striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is set to miss another month with a knee injury, while defender Eric Bailly remains unavailable because of an ankle problem.
Midfielder Michael Carrick, though, was close to featuring against Stoke, having not played since September.
Carrick trained with the squad during a warm-weather break in Dubai between the Derby and Stoke matches, having returned to fitness after having a minor heart procedure in October.
Burnley manager Sean Dyche will be without Jonathan Walters for the match after the striker underwent a knee operation which is expected to keep him out for up to two months.
“Jon has had a minor tidy up on his knee,” Dyche said.
“He was a little bit worried because there was a very small split in the cartilage. It’s very small but it was annoying him, so he’s had surgery.”
Clarets midfielder Scott Arfield is fit again following a hamstring injury but full-back Charlie Taylor is doubtful with a rib injury.
Seventh-placed Burnley have not won a game since December 12 last year with three defeats and three draws in their last six Premier League fixtures.
However, forward Ashley Barnes dismissed suggestions they are in a poor run of form having faced United, Liverpool and Manchester City in that sequence.
“I don’t think we are struggling at all,” he said. “Look at the league position, it speaks for itself.
“You look at the teams above us, it’s the top six teams.”