Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has insisted his team must improve in the “big run of games” over the next fortnight to become strong contenders for the Premier League title.

Solskjaer believes it will be “difficult for the players to play at their top level every game” during this “vital” period and suggested his fringe players could have a big role to play as he is forced to rotate.

Asked whether this busy spell will decide if United can challenge for the title, Solskjaer said: “This is a big run of games for us. After the Villa game on New Year’s Day, we have a little bit of a break in the league.

“So, of course, this period now is going to be vital and it will be easier for me to answer that around about that time. I’d be disappointed if the players didn’t think we can put a challenge up because at the moment anything goes in the league.

“There’s different reasons for different results. I feel we are getting better but we have to improve quite a bit to take the next step.

“I think this season is going to be very unpredictable and up and down. Whoever finds the consistency and the energy have a better chance than in the last few seasons because there’s been a few runaway teams.”

United are set to embark on a run of six games over 15 days, beginning with Thursday night’s trip to Bramall Lane as they face bottom-of-the-table Sheffield United.