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Andy Cole: What Manchester United need to do to challenge in the Premier League again

Andy Cole, Man Utd
(Image credit: PA)

Andy Cole says Manchester United must eradicate their habit of starting seasons slowly if they’re to return to the top of the Premier League.

United opened their campaign with a surprise 3-1 loss at home to Crystal Palace at the weekend, and have frequently made slow starts since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson. In five of the seven seasons since then, they have been outside the top six after their 10th league game of the campaign.

They recovered impressively to finish third last season, but were still 33 points behind champions Liverpool, and have ambitions of improving this time around.
Cole was part of a United side that won five Premier League titles during his eight seasons at the club, when they frequently got off to a strong start under Ferguson.

“It’s very important,” he tells FourFourTwo. “You want to improve season on season and if you’re looking to close the gap, you’ve got to win games and get as many points as possible.

“The manager always wanted us to get a good start. You can’t afford to drop too many points early doors, because then you’re playing catch-up. You know through the season, you’re going to go through a real sticky patch where you’re not picking up as many points as you want - you might lose a couple, and draw.

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“But if you get your points on the board early doors, it’s like you’re stocking up for the winter months. You know over that period that it gets really tough, that you’re going to drop points. But you’ve picked your points up early doors, and that puts you in a good position.”

Asked why the United team he played in usually started the season so well, Cole’s answer is simple. “Mentality,” he says. “We were very driven, and we wanted to win the league as many times as possible. In my time there, I could have won it every season I was there. That was just the way we were.”

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side travel to Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday, eager to bounce back from the Palace defeat. “I was disappointed like everybody else,” Cole says of the Palace game. “But no game is a given. Because it’s at home to Crystal Palace and everyone was expecting us to win, that doesn’t mean that Palace aren’t going to turn up, Manchester United are going to play extremely well and win by five.

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“We didn’t play particularly well and we got what we deserved, we have to be honest. We can only build on that and hopefully turn things around.

“Hopefully the players will look to keep improving and pick up results when they’re not playing well. That’s crucial - when you’re not playing well, still picking up points.

“If you look at the players Manchester United have, they’re good enough to go anywhere and get a result. They did that last season. But nothing in football is a given. It’ll be a very tough game against Brighton, because they’ve started the season well.”

Cole played alongside Solskjaer during his time at Old Trafford, and believes his old team-mate is capable of guiding the club back to Premier League glory.

“I hope so,” he says. “If you look where Ole took us last season, people say ‘Yeah, he took the club to three semi-finals but he lost’. But that was better than the season before, when the camp was so unhappy it was unbelievable.

“A year later, three semi finals, finishing in the top four, I’m not quite sure if anyone would have believed that at the start of the season. Before we went into the break for the pandemic, no-one believed that United would finish in the top four.”

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