5:30 PM ET
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has said he wants his players to believe they can win the Premier League title this season.
United are eight points behind leaders Liverpool ahead of Thursday’s trip to Sheffield United and Solskjaer is hopeful they can mount a serious challenge for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013.
“I would be disappointed if the players didn’t think we can put a challenge up,” Solskjaer told a news conference on Wednesday.
“At the moment, anything goes in the league. I feel we are getting better, but we have to improve quite a bit to take that next step as well.”
The trip to Bramall Lane is the start of a gruelling run for United who face six games in 16 days over Christmas and New Year. Manchester City and Liverpool have dominated the Premier League for the past three years but Solskjaer believes the gap with the chasing pack has closed.
“This is a big run of games for us,” Solskjaer said. “After the [Aston] Villa game on New Year’s Day, we have a little bit of a break in the league. This period is going to be vital.
“I think this season is going to be very unpredictable and up and down. Whoever finds the consistency and the energy will have a better chance than in the last few seasons, because there is been a few runaway teams.
“Even though we’ve got six games in less than 16 days, we have still got to look at one, then one and then one because if you take your eye off the ball you will quickly lose points in games where you expect to take more.”
After facing Sheffield United, Solskjaer’s team play Leeds, Everton, Leicester and Wolves before welcoming Aston Villa to Old Trafford on New Year’s Day.
Solskjaer plans to rotate his squad to navigate the hectic run, but he has also warned his players they will need to be “mentally ready”.
“With regards to six games in 15 or 16 days, it is probably difficult to perform at the top level every game,” Solskjaer said.
“That is why we have got to be good at rotating, resting and finding moments to give them a chance in games.
“In these times you don’t have too many places to go, so they are recovering quicker, the players have stricter rules and protocols to follow, so I think they should be able to physically cope with it if they are mentally ready for it.”