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How far away are Manchester United from challenging for the Premier League title?

Sports Mole assesses how far Manchester United are away from once again competing at the top end of the Premier League table.

As things stand Manchester United are 37 points behind runaway leaders Liverpool and are fighting with the likes of Wolverhampton Wanderers and Sheffield United for the fourth and final Champions League spot.

The Red Devils have fallen a long way since their legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson departed seven years ago, but many feel the club is back on the right track.

Former United captain Gary Neville recently claimed that "if we hadn't had this virus, I think Man Utd could've been two or three years away (from challenging for the title)".

While that may seem delusional to many, in reality it is not beyond the realms of possibility.

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer celebrates their second goal scored by Odion Ighalo on February 27, 2020© Reuters

In 2017-18 Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool finished 25 points behind Pep Guardiola's City centurions. Just 12 months later the Merseyside club finished just one point adrift of the Citizens and claimed their sixth European crown.

One of the key facilitators in United's historical rivals being able to improve so rapidly was the acquisitions of world-class operators such as Alisson Becker, Fabinho, and Virgil van Dijk, the latter of whom only came in halfway through the 2017-18 campaign.

That is something Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side also requires and Neville believes the financial constraints that coronavirus will bring may work in their favour: "United still need to add a few players of really high quality, and they are in a position to be able to capitalise this summer in the transfer market."

The Stretford End faithful would love to see the likes of long-term targets Jadon Sancho and Jack Grealish bolster the ranks at Old Trafford and propel them to within touching distance of their 21st league crown.

Borussia Dortmund winger Jadon Sancho pictured on May 16, 2020© Reuters

Although an unpopular figure amongst supporters for his apparent lack of football understanding and either refusal or inability to hire a director of football, Ed Woodward has done a magnificent job in boosting United's economic position in recent years.

The former investment banker has overseen record-high revenues despite indifferent performances on the pitch. Neville believes United's strong financial record will provide them with the upper hand over their European rivals in dealing with the ongoing pandemic.

"Where I think there is a massive change in making them competitive is if you were a top player in Europe at this moment in time, and you had the choice of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus, Liverpool, Manchester City, all those clubs, Manchester United would likely lose out on those players because of where they are in the cycle of the team," Neville told Sky Sports News.

"I think now, out of those eight clubs, I think six of them could be completely redundant in the transfer market in terms of spending £60m, £80m. Manchester United's ability will still be there."

Despite the perplexing refusal to join the rest of football's elite in appointing a director of football to oversee transfers, the board appears to have finally settled on a successful transfer strategy.

Ed Woodward watches on during the Premier League game between Huddersfield Town and Manchester United on May 5, 2019© Reuters

No longer are United buying ageing big-name players to fill a gap but a clear, purposeful and prosperous plan is now in place. This bodes well for the future alongside the famed youth academy once again producing top-class talent after a few barren years.

This season Solskjaer has given game time to the likes of Tahith Chong, Angel Gomes and Axel Tuanzebe, but it is Brandon Williams and in particular Mason Greenwood who have really caught the eye.

"I think Mason Greenwood is an outstanding player, the equal of [Marcus] Rashford at his age, in some ways more composed and a bit more classy, less raw, he looks well above his age group in terms of his composure and his temperament," claimed Neville.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes the extended break could have been beneficial to his young talents, saying: "It's going to be exciting now with the young players, Brandon and Mason, maybe the break will do them good, their bodies might fill out, it's a new training environment for him."

With a handful of top-class additions alongside the breakout stars and the likes of David de Gea, Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Bruno Fernandes, Rashford and Anthony Martial, United fans may dare to dream again.

Manchester United's Mason Greenwood celebrates scoring their fourth goal on March 12, 2020© Reuters

Question marks have lingered over the United boss ever since things started to unravel following their famous Champions League comeback in Paris last March. A poor spell saw countless laboured performances and disappointing results at the end of the 2018-19 season and the beginning of the current campaign.

However, many also saw the work that the Old Trafford legend was putting in behind the scenes. The Norwegian cut away the deadwood, offloading the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Marouane Fellaini and Chris Smalling and replacing them with fresh, young, top-class talent that has the necessary desire to play for the club while also being brave enough to utilise the club's capable youth players.

Performances improved after the former Molde boss welcomed Bruno Fernandes from Sporting Lisbon in January and the Portuguese midfielder propelled United up the table via an 11-game unbeaten run before the enforced stoppage.

While doubts remain in certain sections over whether Ole is the man for the job, his ability to guide United to three points behind Chelsea while also overseeing a transitional period and juggling long-term absences from key players such as Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba deserves credit.

Whether he can take the club one step further and get United challenging again remains to be seen, but the man who has helped reinstall some of United's old DNA has surely shown enough to deserve the chance to try.

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Marcus Rashford shoots for Manchester United on December 18, 2019
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