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Saturday, November 27, 2021

Under pressure, Solskjaer’s United embark on potential season-defining fortnight

United play Atalanta in the Champions League on Thursday, Liverpool on Sunday, Tottenham the week after that, followed by Atalanta again on November 3 and the big Manchester derby on November 6.

Written by Sayak Dutta |
Updated: October 20, 2021 3:04:04 pm
Manchester United', Ole Gunnar SolskjaerManchester United part ways with manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (Source: AP)

The pressure Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær is feeling now will be cranked up in the next few weeks as his side has a number of high-profile games to navigate after their recent 4-2 mauling by Leicester City.

United play Atalanta in the Champions League on Thursday, Liverpool on Sunday, Tottenham the week after that, followed by Atalanta again on November 3 and the big Manchester derby on November 6.

Each of these matches will test United’s resolve, and could potentially define their season. How United play will also determine the fate of their manager Solskjaer, who finds himself under increasing pressure.

United’s record in the Champions League has been abysmal this season with a loss against Young Boys and a narrow 2-1 victory over Villareal. The only reason they are not fourth in the group is because of that late goal by Cristiano Ronaldo against Villareal that saved their blushes.

Manchester United' Manchester United’s Paul Pogba, left, reacts after the English Premier League match between Leicester City and Manchester United at King Power stadium in Leicester, England, Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)

Coming to the Tottenham match, it was just last season when they blew United away with a 6-1 victory. Even though they have been struggling a bit to adapt under manager Nuno Espírito Santo, they might fancy a real crack against this United team which is suffering a crisis of confidence at this moment.

On Saturday, United suffered an embarrassing defeat at Leicester as they helplessly saw their record of staying undefeated in 29 away matches in the Premier League, snatched from their grasp and stomped into the ground by a marauding Leicester City team.

The winds of change might not have yet started blowing at Manchester United regarding Ole’s job if recent remarks of the club’s football director John Murtough are to be believed who said that the “hysteria” on social media will not affect the Norwegian’s position.

But this Leicester City-assisted dismantling of the team might have just nudged that conversation into that direction.

Manchester United have no discernable style of play under Ole. They seem to be lacking plan and looked defenceless as they leaked goals agains Leicester.

Leicester overwhelmed United with the aggression of their pressing, the quality of their passing and their swift combinations in attack, while the United defenders looked far out of their depth against them. This is the same Leicester City who are 11th in the league table. So, they haven’t exactly had a flying start to the campaign.

To add to their problems Ronaldo has been isolated at the top, with little support from the midfield.

Solskjaer has often been rescued by the individual brilliance of one of his players and Manchester United has a fair few of them. Against Leicester, though, even Mason Greenwood’s brilliant goal could not save the sinking ship. There was no late comeback, no last-minute goals to save themselves as the travelling United supporters had to just sit and witness their team’s defence getting shred from limb to limb, while Ole looked to the sky, perhaps waiting for a divine intervention. An intervention that ultimately did not come to pass.

It’s very easy to point a finger at Ole and state that it’s all down to his managerial ineptitude but the players are also somewhat to blame here. Harry Maguire looked unfit from the start, Wan Bissaka has been regressing season after season instead of blossoming, Bruno Fernandes was content at appealing to the referee whenever things did not go their way, instead of taking charge of the midfield while Paul Pogba looked lost in the midfield.

But on the other end of the spectrum, these are also the players who just had a brilliant international break under their national team managers. Pogba won the Nations League with France and Ronaldo had recently scored a hattrick with Portugal in a match where Bruno Fernandes was also on the score sheet. So, you can’t help but wonder why these players perform for their national team and just look like passengers in a Manchester United shirt.

The players, and especially their manager, will hope the next fortnight will bring some relief.

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