Andy Cole: Man United Premier League title challenge will be very tough

Andy Cole thinks Manchester United should target a top-four finish next season because he believes the Premier League title is probably beyond them.

United head to Hull on Sunday for the final game of the 2014-15 campaign having already secured their target of Champions League qualification.

Although they trail champions Chelsea by 15 points, manager Louis van Gaal claimed during a speech at the club's awards night this week that United were "very close" to Jose Mourinho's men -- but Cole disagrees.

The former striker, who won the Premier League five times with United, believes the Red Devils have fallen behind their rivals after two trophy-less years, and therefore reckons the club needs to temper their expectations.

"The aim should be the same again -- to finish in the Champions League," Cole told Press Association Sport. "To win the Premier League next year would be very, very tough.

"Chelsea have been the best team. In the first half of the season they played very well and in the second half they ground results out.

"How many teams can do what Chelsea do? There are going to be the team to beat next season.

"Arsenal will be there if they buy a couple of players. If you miss out for two years it gets harder and harder. It will be tough for Manchester United to win the Premier League next year."

United hit form in the spring, beating Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham in quick succession, but ultimately their poor start cost them.

Despite enjoying a near-perfect preseason campaign -- and spending over £150 million on new signings last summer -- Van Gaal lost his opening game to Swansea and ended up winning just three of his first 10 matches.

United have had to grind out several results and many of their new buys have not lived up to their star billing.

Cole thinks some United supporters have been left underwhelmed by some performances and is somewhat disappointed to have seen the team score 62 goals in 37 matches.

"It has been another strange season," he said. "The way Manchester United play is totally different to when Sir Alex Ferguson was here.

"They play a different way. And I just think it's a case of getting used to the system, and play the way we used to play.

"The fans are looking to always have galvanising, attacking, free-flowing football with lots of goals and when they don't get that then they are disappointed because that is what they have been brought up on.

"It has been an up and down season again, but we are in the top four."

United's four main strikers -- Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Radamel Falcao and James Wilson -- have scored 27 league goals between them, but Cole thinks others must take the blame for a goals tally he believes is unacceptable.

"For us to not score as many as we usually do, that's strange for a team like Manchester United, because we have all the creativity and we have attack-minded players," added Cole, who scored 121 goals in 275 appearances for United.

"It's not just Wayne. If you take Wayne out of the equation, you expect them to get a few more goals as well, and I know he has not played up front for the majority of the season.

"I think as a team everyone needs to contribute. Your wide men do as well as your centre-forwards."