Manchester United

'Man Utd Have To Challenge For The Title'

ESPN's Manchester United and Manchester City correspondent, Rob Dawson, believes the Red Devils must be more competitive in the Premier League title race in 2021/22 as they prepare to tackle Leicester City.
More on this story...

- Manchester United visit Leicester City in the Premier League on Saturday (3pm kick-off)
- ESPN's Rob Dawson previewed the fixture on LCFC Radio's Matchday Live show this week
- Dawson says the Red Devils must challenge for the Premier League title this season
- City fans can access live coverage of the game from 1:30pm on LCFC Radio, for free

The Foxes took four points from Ole Gunnar Solskjær's 20-time champions last season and defeated them in the quarter-finals of the Emirates FA Cup, on their way to lifting the trophy, but Man Utd have been strengthened considerably over the summer transfer window.

Defender Raphaël Varane and forward Jadon Sancho joined from Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund respectively, before the blockbusting return of Juventus' Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portuguese icon – a winner of 32 major honours across his career – nine of which came during his first spell at Old Trafford.

That business over the summer has thrust the Manchester club back into serious title contention this season, but with just one point from their last two top-flight fixtures, and an early exit in the Carabao Cup, there is room for improvement for Solskjær's men.

With new, loftier ambitions and expectations, Dawson says the Red Devils must begin picking up more positive results – starting at King Power Stadium on Saturday afternoon (3pm kick-off).

"There have been a couple of good performances," he told LCFC Radio. "These include Newcastle, when Ronaldo came back, and Leeds at the start of the season, where it looked like things clicked. There have been other games where they just haven’t been at the level required, especially recently.

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Manchester United
Manchester United

The Red Devils started brightly in 2021/22 but have struggled to collect points over recent matchweeks.

"They’re going through a bit of a bad run with two wins from six. It isn’t Man Utd form. Everton, last time out, obviously drew at Old Trafford, but they would have gone away thinking that they should have won. It’s that kind of period for United. They just seem to be struggling a little bit.

"Maybe the new arrivals haven’t gelled as quickly as they would have liked. It just feels like there’s something missing at the moment. Obviously, Solskjær will hope that it all clicks into place.

"They’ve progressed quite nicely under Solskjær. They finished third and then second and the next step is to really challenge for the title. I don’t think that has changed, even though they’ve not started particularly well. That was true even before Ronaldo came.

"They had already signed Jadon Sancho and Raphaël Varane, two top quality players, and the expectation was they would really challenge Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea for the title. On top of that, you bring Ronaldo in, and I think the pressure only increases.

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Ole Gunnar Solskjær
Ole Gunnar Solskjær

Rob Dawson says the next stage in Ole Gunnar Solskjær's tenure at Old Trafford has to be to challenge for the title.

"It’s not been a great start on the pitch, but I think the target still has to be at least challenging for the title. Solskjær has said he wants to be there or there abouts in March-April time. It can’t be one of those situations where they’re battling for the top four towards the end.

"The top four has to be guaranteed and then they have to be challenging for the title."

Ronaldo's return to Old Trafford attracted headlines around the world and the former Real Madrid and Juventus forward has already netted five goals, taking his career total to 679. The sheer scale of attention in the No.7 is no surprise to Dawson, but his immediate impact did make an impression. 

"I didn’t think he would start as well as he has done," he continued. "I thought he may take another little bit of time. He didn’t have a particularly full pre-season. At Juventus, he didn’t have that much game time before he came, but he came to United and scored goals straight away.

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Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo has made an immediate impact early on into his second spell at Manchester United.

"We should know by now never to right him off even though he’s 36 years old. The whole season now will be dominated by Cristiano Ronaldo.

"The build-up to every game will be about him, how we performs on the pitch, whether he scores or not, his reaction to a result – negative or positive – he’s just that kind of personality. He is one of the most famous people on the planet and he’s playing in the Premier League, so it’s only to be expected."

Defensive partners Varane and Harry Maguire, who spent two years on Filbert Way, are set to miss Saturday's encounter with the Foxes and Dawson admits that frailties have began to show at the back for Manchester United over previous weeks. They can't afford to surface again in Leicester, he says.

"They’ve got a few injury problems," Dawson explained. "Varane won’t play and we’re not expecting Maguire to play while he recovers from injury. That means Victor Lindelöf and Eric Bailly will have to play at centre-back.

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Raphaël Varane
Raphaël Varane

The summer arrival of Raphaël Varane was another signpost to United's ambitions, but the Frenchman is set to miss Saturday's visit to Leicester.

"Solskjær has tended to go three at the back occasionally, when he’s wanted to, so there is the option there, but I can’t see it personally. I think he’ll go with Lindelöf and Bailly. They have been vulnerable at the back. They just haven’t kept enough clean sheets.

"They go through spells in games where they do look vulnerable. When the other team crosses the hallway line, there’s a bit of panic.

"That’s going to have to be quickly solved if they are going to challenge for the title, especially against a team like Leicester, who everybody knows how dangerous they can be going forward. United will have to be very, very careful because they’ve come unstuck against Leicester in the past.

"It’s always been a difficult game for them. A lot of fans are looking at this next run of fixtures, with the likes of Liverpool, Man City and Tottenham, as a really tough run. Leicester are right in there. United fans will be wary of this game. United haven’t always done particularly well at King Power Stadium.

"They lost twice against Leicester last season. That FA Cup game as well will be fresh in the memory, so they’ll be expecting a very tough game and so will Solskjær."

All times BST.

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