One thing Manchester United have failed to show since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement is being a consistent Premier League title challenger and though they have seemed like that under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, they are not quite there yet.
The best finish post-Ferguson was second under Jose Mourinho during the 2017-18 season but it really wasn’t a challenge because they never smelt the top during the run-in and finished a distant 19 points behind eventual champions and cross-town rivals Manchester City.
This season under Solskjaer, the Red Devils did not particularly start well but did find some steam to go on a 13-game unbeaten run inclusive of a game in hand at Burnley on January 12 which ended 1-0 and sent them top of the league. It was the first time since January 2013 when Ferguson was still in charge the men in red were at the summit of the log.
Narratives had been spinning for a while that United were finally title contenders and truly had a shot at it as they were back to their best thanks largely to the renewed form of Paul Pogba, the scorer of the sole goal at Turf Moor.
Since Manchester United entered the title race, they’ve lost to bottom of the league Sheffield United and drew to 19th place West Brom.
Simply not good enough. pic.twitter.com/t4ZYPKkcgv
— Football Tweet (@Football__Tweet) February 14, 2021
It was not long after the Burnley victory that United suffered a shock 2-1 home defeat to relegation-threatened Sheffield United. The reality began to sink in as Man City were lurking close behind with a run of consecutive victories.
Like it wasn’t enough disappointment, Solskjaer’s men could only get a bore draw at Arsenal, a disappointing 3-3 draw at home to Everton and most recently a 1-1 draw at another relegation-battling side in West Bromwich Albion on Sunday.
City never dropped maximum points and have now taken a seven-point lead over United and it could extend to 10 points when they tackle Everton at Goodison Park on Wednesday.
— Premier League (@premierleague) February 16, 2021
While the narrative of being title contenders was flying around, Solskjaer did not share the same thoughts.
“We should not even be considered as title chasers. That is more talk that you (the media) are saying,” Solskjaer said after United’s 3-3 draw with Everton.
“We need to be better as a team and see where we end up. Going forward, we need to stop conceding easy goals.”
The truth might hurt but Solskjaer was spot on with his above assertion.
If they did, they wouldn’t have had a bad start to the campaign. Even as they adjusted, it was going to be difficult to keep the momentum seeing that the bulk of their victories were comebacks.
Bruno Fernandes has created 98 Premier League chances under Ole Gunnar Solskjær, more than any other Man Utd player.
He joined the club over a year into the manager’s reign. 😳 pic.twitter.com/W5X3wltgiT
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) February 13, 2021
You can’t ride on such luck each time and that’s what happened when they failed to beat Sheffield United and not claim maximum points against Everton and West Brom.
As a team with a champion mentality, you’ve got to dominate games from the start, take the lead and take control. That has clearly not happened for Solskjaer’s men this season, especially at Old Trafford where they have five wins as against eight victories on the road, the joint highest in the league.
Also, the mentality of the players doesn’t show they look hungry for success. Only Bruno Fernandes has displayed such attitude since his arrival from Sporting Lisbon in January 2020 and the result of his presence has made him the best player in the English top-flight from that period till date with his 38 goals involvements (22 goals, 16 assists).
However, Fernandes can’t be the only one bailing the team out over and over again. Others have to step up and above all show that desire to win trophies. That desire has been lacking from the likes of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Pogba and even captain Harry Maguire who has been culpable in a number of early goals conceded.
38 – Since his Premier League debut for Manchester United in February 2020, only Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski (both 44) have been directly involved in more goals in Europe's big-five leagues than Bruno Fernandes (38 – 22 goals, 16 assists). Special. pic.twitter.com/wHvp0FhUUH
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 14, 2021
Man United are therefore not ready to challenge for the Premier League title. They should rather focus on securing a top-four berth which won’t even be easy seeing a long train of teams like Leicester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, West Ham United, Everton, among others, are all not far behind.
It’s also yet to be seen if they’ll break the jinx of not reaching a final under Solskjaer. They’re in the FA Cup quarter-finals and face a rejuvenated Leicester whom they narrowly beat to a top-four spot last season.
The Red Devils also take on Real Sociedad in the Europa League round of 32 this week and it’s only going to get tougher if they progress with teams such as Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Leicester, AC Milan, AS Roma, Napoli, Benfica and Bayer Leverkusen, all potentially waiting.
If Manchester United can’t have that winning mindset as they did for so long under Alex Ferguson, they might as well forget about challenging for any major honours, not just for the remainder of this season but even in the ones ahead.
Was Solskjaer right to admit Manchester United were not Premier League title contenders?
Drop your thoughts in the comments box below.
Photo Credit: Getty Images