Solskjaer has a month to save his job: Neil Humphreys
United's tough upcoming fixtures will finally make or break Norwegian's Old Trafford tenure
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has just over a month to save his job. A new contract and residual goodwill will not offer enough protection this time.
The upcoming fixtures are too definitive to allow any further concessions from his dwindling fan base.
Manchester United haven't mustered a decent performance since the start of the season, largely getting away with their ineptitude due to mediocre opposition.
But their shortcomings are about to be exposed. Before next month's international break, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City and Atalanta are all threatening to scream, "Emperor's New Clothes" at the United dugout.
By the time Dec 1 rolls around, Villarreal, Chelsea and perhaps even Arsenal may have contributed to the great unmasking of the non-special one.
And that's the real problem with Solskjaer. He's kindness personified, generous to a fault. The affable striker who spent large periods of his United career on the bench has morphed into the United manager incapable of fixing anything from the bench.
As Leicester City struck with two late goals in their 4-2 win on Saturday, the Norwegian had that rueful gaze firmly in place, encouraging empathy, but not much in the way of sympathy.
So much of this familiar, trudging mediocrity is of the manager's making.
Three years on, the discernible lack of a pattern, a philosophy, a settled first XI or a vague approach to winning all remain present and incorrect, as if he's playing a game of Fantasy Premier League, picking all his superstars and expecting them to fix stuff among themselves.
Solskjaer was strong-armed into signing Cristiano Ronaldo, it's true, but he's essentially acquired another non-presser in an attack of non-pressers.
As Gary Neville pointed out, being a former right-back, he'd wake up in a cold sweat at the prospect of playing behind Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho, Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba, whose lack of influence on either side of the centre circle bordered on parody.
Nemanja Matic was arguably United's Man of the Match, performing a frantic, plate-spinning act, dashing from side to side to fix his wobbling, imbalanced side.
ONE CLEAN SHEET
The other contender was David de Gea, who made several fine saves to restrict Leicester to just four goals. The Spaniard is also an early contender for United's Player of the Season, even though the Red Devils have kept one clean sheet in 11 games.
In the league, 10 points have been dropped already - against the likes of Aston Villa, Everton and Southampton. United haven't played anyone of the highest calibre yet.
They are coming in the next month or so and they smell a disoriented, wounded animal.
The Red Devils are leaderless and generally directionless against opponents content to concede possession and wait for counter-attacks to bypass flimsy lines of defence.
Five United players rarely tracked back in a competition dominated by counter-pressing champions for the last five years. That's a job for the training ground.
Leicester profited through simple counter-attacks and too many dead-ball situations. That's also a job for the training ground.
Harry Maguire lost his concentration against the Foxes. Sancho's attacking role wasn't clearly defined. Pogba offered Matic no support. Fernandes has been a peripheral presence for weeks.
These are all jobs for the training ground, for the manager to address. There are lackadaisical superstars to confront and demands to make.
Maybe he does. Maybe the affable Solskjaer transforms into a tyrannical force behind closed doors.
But the message isn't getting through. Either Solskjaer isn't talking or his players aren't listening. Whatever the scenario, it's an indictment of the manager's communication process. The dressing room seems perilously close to being lost.
Nostalgia earned Solskjaer the job. Average opposition has kept him in it after a disorganised start to the season. But the genuine title contenders are on their way to show what a tactical structure really looks like.
Should the defeats pile up, United's old boy network will not help a team in desperate need of a new beginning.
UNITED'S UPCOMING GAMES
- v Atalanta (Thurs, 3am, Home)
- v Liverpool (Sun, 11.30pm, H)
- v Tottenham Hotspur (Oct 31, 12.30am, Away)
- v Atalanta (Nov 3, 4am, A)
- v Man City (Nov 6, 8.30pm, H)