Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes the Red Devils have to improve “quite a bit” to be among the Premier League title challengers.
United are ninth in the Premier League, eight points adrift of defending champions and leaders Liverpool but with two games in hand ahead of Thursday’s fixture at Sheffield United.
The Red Devils finished 33 points off the pace last season but Solskjaer cannot see a title rival streaking away like Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool did in their record-setting 2019-20 campaign.
United are about to embark on a run of six matches in 15 days, including a trip to face high-flying Leicester City and a long-awaited Yorkshire derby against Leeds United.
Solskjaer insisted the race to be crowned 2020-21 Premier League champions is still wide open but admitted his players must raise their game to mount a bid for title glory.
“This is a big run of games for us,” Solskjaer said. “I’d be disappointed if the players didn’t think we can put a challenge up because at the moment anything goes in the league.
“There’s different reasons for different results. I feel we are getting better but we have to improve quite a bit to take the next step.
Ole on our opposition: “There’s no easy game in the Premier League.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) December 16, 2020
“I think this season is going to be very unpredictable and up and down.
“Whoever finds the consistency and the energy have a better chance than in the last few seasons because there’s been a few runaway teams.”
Solskjaer’s side travel to face rock bottom Sheffield United on Thursday before hosting Leeds at Old Trafford on Sunday and visting Everton in the EFL Cup quarter-final on December 23.
Manchester United then head to Leicester on Boxing Day, before they close out 2020 at home to Wolves on December 29 and host Aston Villa on New Year’s Day.
Victory for Manchester United on Thursday will see them become only the fourth side in top-flight history to win 10 away league games in a row, after Tottenham (10 between April and October 1960), Chelsea (11 between April and December 2008) and Manchester City (11 between May and December 2017).
United have won all five of their Premier League away matches this season, despite conceding the first goal each time. No side has ever won six away games after conceding first in a single Premier League season, with Aston Villa in 1993-94 the only other side to do five (from 21 games).
Meanwhile, United have scored at least twice in each of their last nine Premier League away fixtures, a joint record in the competition alongside Leeds in 2001. The last top-flight side to score two-plus goals in 10 consecutive road matches were Tottenham in October 1960.