Jeff Stelling explains why Manchester United aren't title challengers

Manchester United Old Trafford 2

Soccer Saturday host Jeff Stelling feels Manchester United remain a work in progress and cannot be considered genuine Premier League title challengers.

Carlsberg Jeff Stelling Christmas Speech

Manchester United have taken maximum points from their last six Premier League outings, and will go in search of a seventh straight success at Aston Villa this weekend.

A pre-Christmas surge up the standings has lifted the Red Devils into the top four and onto the coattails of the title frontrunners.

Arch-rivals Manchester City are almost within touching distance, some five points out of reach, while leaders Chelsea hold an eight-point advantage over the men from Old Trafford.

Bridging that gap is more than doable, with there still 22 games to come this season, but can United be considered genuine contenders for a 21st top-flight crown?

Jeff Stelling took a break from filming his alternative Christmas speech for the Carlsberg Fan Squad, released on Boxing Day, to discuss that issue with HITC Sport, and here is what he had to say: “Not for me, no. They have had a fantastic run and confidence has come with it. There is an element of the old Manchester United ‘we’re never beaten until the final whistle’ attitude being back as well, and the goalkeeper has been fantastic.

“But I was at Southampton a few weeks ago for the game down there and Manchester United were dreadful, let’s be honest. Robin van Persie was back, that was for sure, he put himself about and got two goals and he was exceptional and that was a massive plus for them.

“I’d like to judge Van Gaal over the course of a full season, because they have spent fantastic amounts of money and got (Angel) Di Maria to come back fit eventually, who made a spectacular start to the season. But I just don’t see them as title contenders.

“You can’t defend like they defend, you just can’t. They are going to concede so many goals. You aren’t going to keep on winning matches. At Southampton again, it could have been 6-1, but they won 2-1. That isn’t going to keep on happening, unless he gets that defence sorted out. I just don’t think they have got the players on their books at the moment to shore the defence up.

“If they qualify for the Champions League, it’s been a fantastic season for them. There is every chance now that they will do that.”

As Liverpool found in 2013/14, it is easier to enjoy domestic success when free of the distractions of European football.

That could work in United’s favour this term, with the FA Cup the only other competition set to figure on their radar.

Stelling is not the only one to get the feeling, though, that the Red Devils remain a work in progress and that a top-four finish would represent a positive step in the right direction for a side still piecing together a puzzle which became rather jumbled in the wake of Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure.

If Carlsberg did Christmas speeches…. Head to CarlsbergFanSquad.co.uk at midday on Boxing Day to see Jeff Stelling's ultimate review of the year. Click here for a sneak peek behind the scenes. Follow @CarlsbergFooty for Barclays Premier League ticket giveaways and more from the Carlsberg Fan Squad.

Register for MANCHESTER UNITED team updates

Register for HITC Sport - Daily Dispatch