Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has said his side will not be in a position to challenge for the Premier League title next season.
The Red Devils have endured a campaign of inconsistency, with the pick-up in form triggered by the appointment of Solskjaer in December recently coming to an end. Last week United were dumped out of the UEFA Champions League 4-0 on aggregate by Barcelona and then beaten 4-0 by Everton on Sunday in the Premier League.
On Wednesday night, United host rivals Manchester City, who are involved in a tense title battle with Liverpool in the latter stages of this campaign. Solskjaer was asked if his squad was ready to challenge for the Premier League prize in 2019-20, per Jamie Smith of Goal:
"I don't think we've got the consistency to do that. Over the last 18 games, we're not far away from them, but it's doing it over the course of a season. We've done it for half a season now. Let's see. You can never say never.
"You cannot expect things to happen overnight and we know that. It will happen gradually, and we have to be realistic enough as a club that we have to take it step by step.
"That's not changing 10 players now and bringing 10 players in. It's slowly, slowly but surely. It has to be the right quality, right personality, the right standards to get us back to where we want to be."
Despite his talk of significant changes at Old Trafford over the summer, Solskjaer did also say a number of his players have the right kind of mindset to succeed at United:
In a different era of Premier League football, some astute acquisitions in the summer may be enough to give United a fighting chance of pushing for the title next term. But at the moment, City and Liverpool are setting a blistering pace in search of the top prize.
Per Miguel Delaney of The Independent, both teams have showcased incredible resolve at a high-pressure point in the campaign:
If City were to win on Wednesday at the home of their bitter rivals, they would go back to the summit of the table with three games to play. Anything other than three points for Pep Guardiola's side, and Liverpool would be massive favourites heading into the final throes of the term.
By contrast, United are in a battle for a top-four spot and are outsiders for one of those positions, especially after Tottenham Hotspur's win over Brighton on Tuesday:
For United, securing a UEFA Champions League berth feels key in order to attract some high-profile players in the summer.
The club requires some long-term thinking and incremental building if they are to mix it with the likes of City and Liverpool in years to come. With bumps in the road inevitable during that process, Solskjaer will also require patience.