Why Solskjaer still faces pressure after Champions League boost

Winless at Old Trafford in FIVE Premier League games, questions still hanging over his defence and a selection dilemma in midfield… why Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is still under big pressure and has problems to solve at Man United despite a recent mini revival

  • Manchester United still face huge questions regarding their domestic form 
  • The Red Devils pulled off a resounding victory over RB Leipzig in Europe 
  • Now Ole Gunnar Solskjaer must translate this performance into league matters 
  • United have failed to win in first three home games for first time in 48 years
  • Mikel Arteta’s rejuvenated Arsenal team arrive at Old Trafford on Sunday

Manchester United may be on a high right now after a thrilling demolition of RB Leipzig in the Champions League, but reality is poised to come crashing down for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer if form does not translate to the Premier League.

United welcome old foes Arsenal to Old Trafford on Sunday, knowing their season is running the real risk of falling into crisis territory unless results pick up, and quickly.

Solskjaer’s side have taken just seven points from five matches played this season, winning only two while drawing one and losing twice.

Manchester United and Marcus Rashford are flying in Europe, but now domestic matters await

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer knows the focus must switch effectively back to Premier League duties

The Red Devils have pushed their luck close to the edge on numerous occasions, picking up one of their two victories by defeating Brighton courtesy of a controversial penalty awarded after the game had technically ended.

Now, United are tasked with translating their ruthless European form into a winning streak in the league, and applying the big game mentality against the so-called lesser teams in the top flight.

As for the immediate present, however, United have the opportunity to kick-start their campaign afresh by sending Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal back to north London empty-handed on Sunday.

As problems still persist and pressure remains ever present, Sportsmail examines why the domestic situation isn’t looking healthy for United and why their under-fire boss needs to turn things around.

Historically Old Trafford has always been a terrifying place to go for the opposition.

The big, cavernous stadium with its imposing steel frame and bellowing Stretford End never had to work hard to strike fear into the hearts of those who visited.

Yet this season, albeit in very abnormal global circumstances, the allure and legend appears to have all but faded.

United, it seems, cannot even buy a league win at Old Trafford at the moment and take to the famous turf as a uncertain, quivering wreck.

Old Trafford has had an adverse effect for United in the league so far with the team struggling

It’s fair to say the absence of almost 80,000 passionate supporters plays a crucial role in this, but this season Solskjaer’s United have appeared daunted by the prospect of welcoming sides to their once fortress of a home ground.

Perhaps the pressure of failing to win at home yet this season is causing a spiral of issues and doubts of its own doing.

It can hardly be said that United will turn out for the weekend’s fixture with recent happy memories of their stomping ground, having been held to a drab goalless stalemate by Chelsea and, before that, absolutely demolished by Tottenham Hotspur and their own former manager Jose Mourinho.

The dark clouds from that humiliating 6-1 Tottenham defeat still hang in the air over Manchester, and it was arguably the reprieve from domestic pressures that saw United play so care free and effectively in the Champions League.

United have been caught off guard by the likes of Crystal Palace this season at home

Huge heart must be taken from the comeback victory in Paris and Wednesday night’s 5-0 drubbing of Leipzig.

Against Julian Nagelsmann’s side United evidenced how to perfectly welcome a side to Old Trafford before expertly picking them apart. Perhaps buying themselves some breathing space with an opening group stage win over PSG aided this.

Either way, the focus is now on Solskjaer to apply this same winning formula to come out best against Arteta. 

Poor run mounting

The statistics don’t reflect kindly at all on United so far this season, and Solskjaer has enough experience in the world of football to know that the positive momentum of one big win can only carry you so far.

At current standing, United have failed to win any of their first three league home fixtures for the first time since the 1972-73 season.

The Red Devils are without a home league win in five matches spanning back to the end of last season, which stands as the club’s longest run without a victory at Old Trafford since 1990.

United have failed to win any of their first three league home fixtures for the first time since ’72

During that season United went a total of six home matches without a win, while Solskjaer’s side will take a step closer to equalling this if they cannot take the spoils against the visiting Gunners.

It’s often said that managers never look beyond the very next game, though it would be foolish to suggest Solskjaer hasn’t eyed up the fixture list to consider the possible permutations of the weeks ahead.

United will be desperate to pull off a statement victory over Arsenal, given an arduous trip to Istanbul follows just three days later, before Solskjaer’s men then resume Premier League action once more against a very in-form Everton.

Two defeats before United next return to Old Trafford at the end of November to host West Brom would certainly have the knees knocking, and see even greater doubt placed upon Solskjaer’s position at the helm. 

Centre-back woes

One thing Solskjaer will perhaps be hoping for above all others is for his side to avoid a defensive collapse against the Gunners.

United’s recent big European wins over PSG and Leipzig have seen the side rightly praised collectively, though questions are still being asked regarding central defence.

Big questions are still being asked regarding Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire’s partnership

Captain Harry Maguire appeared lost at sea in the 6-1 defeat by Spurs, and has struggled for the majority of the season following his controversial summer arrest on the Greek island of Mykonos.

Maguire placed himself on the road to redemption with a goal and an authoritative performance in the 4-1 win at Newcastle, before helping keep out Chelsea’s big money front line at Old Trafford.

But it is Maguire’s understanding with partner Victor Lindelof which many fans and pundits alike remain unconvinced by.

In flashes this season, namely in the defeats to Crystal Palace and Tottenham, United’s first choice centre back pairing appeared to be operating on different wavelengths, mixing up communication and welcoming opposition attacks as a result.

At times this season the centre-backs have appeared uncertain and lacked communication

Only Liverpool, West Brom and Fulham have conceded more goals than United this season so far. 

United continue to be linked with a move for Dayot Upamecano of Leipzig, which can only serve to play on the mind of existing squad members, for good or for bad.

Solskjaer also seems unconvinced by his options beyond Maguire and Lindelof, with Eric Bailly only used sparingly and 28-year-old Phil Jones now relegated to the stands.

Midfield conundrum

Despite the season still being in its infant stage, it is quite concerning for United supporters that Solskjaer still appears entirely unsure as to his best midfield combination.

Solskjaer has stood resolute on his decision to slowly bed new signing Donny van de Beek into the side, hitting back at critics who have questioned his limited use of the Dutchman.

Solskjaer appears to be still working out how best to get Donny van de Beek into his plans

Yet despite speaking so defiantly on the subject, Solskjaer then went and handed the playmaker an immediate start in United’s clash with Leipzig, opting for the controversial move of implementing a midfield diamond.

With Van de Beek at its tip, Solskjaer was able to deploy Nemanja Matic in a holding role with Fred and Paul Pogba either side.

The United boss was clearly vindicated in his decision given the side’s resounding victory, though many fans have been left with an anxious feeling that the Norwegian is still blindly tinkering with his team as the campaign gathers pace.

On this occasion it worked handsomely, but it remains to be seen whether a similar switch up would have the same consequences against Arsenal.

Solskjaer still opted to bring on Scott McTominay after just one hour played on Wednesday night, and Bruno Fernandes joined the action just eight minutes later.

Paul Pogba has been in and out of the team, while Bruno Fernandes did not start vs Leipzig

Critics of Solskjaer will be quick to argue that this was the sign of a football manager who is simply not sure which of his midfielders to play to be most effective and competitive on the pitch, instead taking a gambling and opting to play them all while hoping for the best.

United are blessed with some real talent within their ranks and to have a surplus is certainly no bad thing. 

Indecision, however, can quickly become a killer. There is a strong feeling that the pressure will continue to hang over Solskjaer’s head until he comes to a clear realisation of his best starting XI and its most efficient formation. 

Goal-shy forwards

It seems strange to mention goals after United have just hammered five past Leipzig, yet when it comes to the all important Premier League matters there is certainly room for improvement.

United may have entered a goal-laden purple patch in Champions League duty, though this does not paper over the fact the team have only scored nine in the league so far this season.

This season Tottenham’s Son Heung-Min has almost scored as many goals as United have

To put this into context, Tottenham have scored 16 times while reigning champions Liverpool have hit the back of the net 15 times already, Everton have 14 and Dean Smith’s Aston Villa boast 12. 

United therefore desperately need the fluency with which they played against Leipzig to permeate into the domestic approach, with responsibility shared across the pitch and the goals flowing as a result.

The arrival of Edinson Cavani will no doubt help this considerably, given the Uruguayan made a sharp and positive impact following his substitute appearance against Chelsea.

Against Newcastle, United evidenced how they can hurt teams with dangerous players all over the pitch, with each of their four goals coming from different scorers – two of which being defenders.

But, as Solskjaer will well know, top sides who hold realistic ambitions to win big silverware need a leading forward line who can provide a glut of goals throughout the campaign.

Rashford took the match ball home on Wednesday but must now provide the domestic goals

So far this season, Tottenham have seen Son Heung-Min almost outscore United on his own with eight goals, while Dominic Calvert-Lewin has seven for Everton, Patrick Bamford has provided six for Leeds and Mo Salah has bagged the same total for Liverpool.

The task now is to help Rashford build upon his remarkable second-half hat-trick against Nagelsmann’s side and see the goals pour into Premier League duty as a result.

More goals always equals less pressure, and that is absolutely something Solskjaer could do with right now. 

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