Unai Emery has stressed the importance of the games ahead as Aston Villa and their fans dream of returning to Europe after a 1-0 home win over Fulham.
The result, sealed by Tyrone Mings’ 21st-minute header for the eighth win in a 10-match unbeaten run, saw Villa move up to fifth in the Premier League.
They are one point above Tottenham, who host fourth-placed Manchester United on Thursday. Liverpool and Brighton, in action on Wednesday at West Ham and Nottingham Forest, are four and five points behind Villa, respectively, with extra games on hand.
Villa boss Emery, whose team plays Spurs, Liverpool and Brighton between its remaining five games, was asked after the Fulham contest if European football next season was now an expectation for him.
And he said: “I have to try to be ambitious, to be realistic and also to play under pressure, because I like to play under pressure. Because when we play under pressure it’s because we have something to do.
“Now we are candidates, we are fifth, but Tottenham plays (on Thursday), Liverpool is one game behind us, Brighton three games behind us.
“We are going to play against Liverpool, against Tottenham, against Brighton… they could be key matches to continue being candidates for a European position.
“I think the dreams are here, it’s okay, I think it’s good for everyone, and we can share it with our fans. But he was talking to the team: I like to play key games. Like today.
“We are close to achieving (a top 10) and the next step is to try to be a candidate in a European position.”
Villa last played in Europe in 2010, when they lost in the qualifying rounds of the Europa League.
This season, Emery has overseen a move for the 17th-placed Midlands club out of the relegation zone on goals scored, when they lost 3-0 at Fulham in October, their last game under Spain’s predecessor Steven Gerrard. .
On this occasion, they were rarely troubled by a Fulham side whose only officially recorded shot came in the first minute when Andreas Pereira sent an acrobatic effort wide.
Emery said: “Good performance. The first half we really controlled the game.
“In the second half, I think the game changed a bit, maybe we were a bit more tired. We didn’t control the game with the ball like we did in the first half, but I think they asked us to work differently in the second half, and we did it.”
In the 83rd minute he saw the ball into the Villa goal, sent from Harrison Reed to Mings, but the pennant was offside.
Fulham boss Marco Silva, whose team remains ninth, said: “The first half wasn’t good enough from us, we were too timid, not aggressive enough. We conceded a completely sloppy goal. The first half was not up to our level, the standards.
“In the second half, even if we didn’t create enough chances to equalize, at least we were completely different, our pressure was completely different… (but) our front row didn’t create enough.”
Silva confirmed that Willian had to be withdrawn from the starting line-up after feeling a hamstring problem in the warm-up and that Harry Wilson had been substituted in the 17th minute due to being unwell.