Manchester United will have to be taken seriously as Liverpool’s main Premier League title rivals if they emerge from their visit to Leicester with another away win, according to Paul Merson.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s position came under scrutiny in November following defeats by Arsenal and Istanbul Basaksehir, and his side’s early Champions League elimination intensified the pressure surrounding his job.
But United moved up to third in the Premier League following a chaotic 6-2 win over Leeds last weekend, and Merson believes a seventh successive victory this season away from Old Trafford on Boxing Day would represent a landmark result.
“If United go and win at Leicester, this would be a bigger statement than beating Leeds 6-2,” Merson told Sky Sports. “If they can come away with a win, I would think ‘wow’. It would turn my head and if they win they would be Liverpool’s main rivals.
“I just think with Man City, later on in the season when it comes to the business end of the Champions League, if they’re playing a quarter-final on the Wednesday I can’t see Pep Guardiola playing his strongest team on the weekend. The Champions League is the one he wants and City are already a lot of points behind Liverpool.
“With United, I don’t feel like they’ve got the cover required at centre-half to win the Premier League at present. You would probably say United are Liverpool’s nearest threat, and I wouldn’t have said that three weeks ago.
“When you look at the games Leicester have lost this season at home [against West Ham, Aston Villa, Fulham and Everton], they’ve been beaten by teams they were expected to have a go at. They were all games they were expected to win, so this one should suit Leicester, as the game at Tottenham did.”
Solskjaer shuffled his pack against Leeds, handing Daniel James a rare start in place of Mason Greenwood. The tactical alteration did not come as a surprise to Merson.
“Against Leeds, I didn’t find it a shock at all to see James playing,” he added. “When you play Leeds, you need players who are quick and who are capable of beating opponents as they like to set up one-v-one. West Ham did the same with Said Benrahma at Leeds, but he wasn’t a starter against Chelsea. Certain players will be used against Leeds who aren’t necessarily used every week by their clubs.
“I’d be shocked if James plays at Leicester because you’d normally play Mason Greenwood over him but James is a better one-v-one player with better pace. When it comes to the tighter games and you need a goal, I’d play Greenwood. United have got the squad, but inconsistency is the issue. They went out of the Champions League to RB Leipzig and they’ve been giving teams a head start all season.
““United are in the hunt but they’ve not played well. They’ve got firepower that other teams just haven’t got. But people are talking about Scott McTominay as if he’s the next Roy Keane all of a sudden. They’ve just played Leeds. If they could pick one team to play each week, it would be Leeds. They need to be producing these performances on a consistent basis.
“Leeds will make their own chances. They’d make them if they were playing against Bayern Munich, but no side won’t make chances against Leeds when they play gung-ho football. Leicester will be completely different. This will be a hard game for United as Leicester won’t come and have a go.”