Manchester United might soon have something they've been waiting eight years for

 Man Utd are beginning to build a squad capable of challenging for the Premier League title and this is the best set of players since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.


It would be an interesting computer game simulation to see which side would win out of the Manchester United vintage of 2017/18 and the current crop of players.

This correspondent would edge towards this current side, even though it's Jose Mourinho's runners-up who still have United's highest points tally of the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era.

But if United can sign Raphael Varane, or another top-level central defender, this summer then Solskjaer's side will expect to find the extra eight points to take that tally for themselves, even if the ultimate goal is accruing enough points to win the Premier League title.

In the eight years since Ferguson retired have United ever been closer to having a title-winning squad? Given he bequeathed a side who had just won the league to David Moyes there's a good chance Ferguson would argue for that 2013/14 team, but it was his force of nature that won United that title, as their struggles the following campaign proved.

Mourinho's side were 19 points short of Manchester City and while their points tally was decent they couldn't follow up on that campaign and were found to be a few players short of looking like a title-winning squad, particularly at centre back, an issue that opened up the wounds for Mourinho in the summer of 2018 and ultimately led to his downfall, even if United would correct their transfer market dawdling a year later.

That £80million signing of Harry Maguire added a stick of granite to the United defence and gave the squad its leader. Any doubts about Maguire have been dispelled as this season has progressed and now he's integral for club and country.

You can go through the United team now and glimpse players who are bordering on world-class, at the very least, and Maguire is one of them, as is his England defensive colleague Luke Shaw.

Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes are footballers of the highest quality in midfield, while Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford are on their way there. Then there's Edinson Cavani at centre forward, one of the finest goalscorers in Europe over the last decade.

It's debatable whether the 17/18 squad had quite that depth of talent. They certainly fell short defensively, even if they could count on the best version of David de Gea. Players like Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku might have had moments of being world-class, but they didn't come at Old Trafford.

It certainly feels now that United's recruitment in recent years is laying the groundwork for a team to go very close to winning the league, which adds to the pressure on Solskjaer to deliver. If United do sign Varane then you would look at that side and think it's got title-winners in it.

There are still some areas that you might question. One is in goal and the battle between De Gea and Dean Henderson and whether either goalkeeper is quite at the level required. At right-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka is improving but needs to show the kind of progress Shaw has done in the previous 18 months.

Midfield also remains something of a conundrum, with question marks over Fred and Scott McTominay and whether that partnership is strong enough for all seasons.

This crop of players are also on a timescale. Cavani has extended his contract but he turns 35 in February and another year of leading the line for United in the Premier League seems unlikely, so signing a world-class striker will have to be a priority next summer.

But the foundations are there. United are building a side packed with individual talent, which now needs to be meshed into a coherent structure to keep the pressure on at the top this season. This feels as close as United have been in eight years to being equipped with the tools to win the league.

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