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Can Solskjaer turn misfiring Man Utd around with daunting fixtures on the horizon?

08:00 BST 03/10/2021
Solskjaer Ronaldo Fernandes Manchester United GFX
Saturday's home draw with Everton means the Red Devils have won just two of their last six games, despite playing teams they should be beating

With just seven games played, it would be far too early to rule Manchester United out of the Premier League title race.

They will go into the international break a maximum of three points off the top of the table, and four points better off than they were at the same stage of last season.

But if United's current performance level remains upon the league's resumption in a fortnight, then there is a real possibility that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side will be all-but out of the running by the time the final break of 2021 comes along in early November.

Saturday's 1-1 draw with Everton means United have won just two of their last six games in all competitions, with both of those victories coming thanks to final-second interventions from Jesse Lingard and David de Gea at West Ham, and Cristiano Ronaldo against Villarreal.

How the mood has changed since that memorable win over Newcastle when football resumed following the September international break and Ronaldo brought a noise out of the Old Trafford crowd that has barely been heard for a decade.

That run of results has come against teams that the Red Devils should, given the money they have spent and the talent they have available, beat more times than not.

And that is why it could prove to be so damaging, given the next month's fixtures look far more daunting.

Home games against Liverpool and Manchester City come hot on the heels of away trips to Leicester City and Tottenham, while two must-win Champions League meetings with Atalanta are interspersed in there for good measure.

A visit to Stamford Bridge follows not long after, either, meaning make-or-break territory is not too far away if results do not fall in United's favour.

So what is going wrong for United, and can Solskjaer fix it?

Not for the first time in recent weeks, the Old Trafford outfit dominated for periods against Everton, but struggled to maintain the intensity and high-pressing style required to beat Rafa Benitez's side.

It is an all too familiar feeling for United fans, who have seen their team have good moments over the past month without controlling the whole 90 minutes of a game once.

"We should win this game," Bruno Fernandes told BBC Sport post-match. "We should create more chances. We should not concede that kind of goal.

"It's not the first time and we have to look at our mistakes and see what we can do."

It is almost as if the infamous tweet from the club's official acount in December 2013 - "David Moyes says #mufc must improve in a number of areas, including passing, creating chances and defending," - is still being played out on the pitch almost eight years later.

In truth, United's passing - while not perfect - should not be their main area of concern, but creating chances and defending are something Solskjaer needs to work on improving over the next fortnight.

Aside from Anthony Martial's first league goal since February, the home side struggled to produce any real chances of note against Everton, with Jordan Pickford's only other real save coming from an Edinson Cavani header at 0-0.

That comes hot on the heels of United failing to score from 78 shots in their back-to-back home defeats against West Ham and Aston Villa, proving that Ronaldo cannot always bail them out, despite his heroics in midweek.

Defensively, meanwhile, there are perhaps even greater concerns, particularly with Harry Maguire out injured.

Not since 1971 have United been on a longer run without a clean sheet at home in the league, with their last domestic shutout at the Theatre of Dreams coming nine games ago, against West Ham in mid-March.

They look particularly weak when defending against counterattacks, with Andros Townsend having joined Paco Alcacer and Javi Manquillo in scoring from similar situations against United in recent weeks.

"We were in total control and dominated the game, but we conceded a goal from a corner we had," Solskjaer said post-match "We should have dealt with it.

"It was the same case versus Villarreal and that’s definitely something we need to work on.”

So how likely is Solskjaer to be able to turn things around as pressure - albeit from outside rather than match-attending supporters - continues to grow?

Frankly, this is not an unfamiliar situation for the treble-winning hero. It has become something of a running theme during Solskjaer's tenure in charge for him to go on similar runs to this, only to pull out unexpected results against more-fancied opponents.

Given the games they have coming up, that should give United some confidence of picking up points post-international break. But what happens after that?

Too often under Solskjaer, United have had to rely on individual brilliance over well-drilled team performances, and the lack of those in recent weeks is perhaps more alarming than the coming games.

"We don't look at the league table at this moment, but of course we should have more points. We drop points at home and we should not do that,” Fernandes said. “If we want silverware at the end of the season, we have to do much better."

That starts at the King Power Stadium in a fortnight. Anything less than a win, and the season could start getting away from United and Solskjaer very quickly.