Many tipped Manchester United to mount a Premier League title challenge this season following a big summer outlay that saw them recruit Cristiano Ronaldo, Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho.
But a stuttering start to their domestic league and cup campaigns as well as a mixed Champions League group stage to date has piled the pressure on boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and not for the first time since he took permanent charge in March 2019.
United have failed to win four of their last six games in all competitions following their stalemate against Everton at Old Trafford on Saturday.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is under pressure at Manchester United after their inconsistent start
United have failed to win four of their last six games after drawing with Everton on Saturday
Cristiano Ronaldo came off the bench and showed his frustration at full time by storming off
MANCHESTER UNITED’S NIGHTMARE FIXTURES
October 16: Leicester (A) – Premier League
October 20: Atalanta (H) – Champions League
October 24: Liverpool (H) – Premier League
October 30: Tottenham (A) – Premier League
November 2: Atalanta (A) – Champions League
November 6: Manchester City (H) – Premier League
November 20: Watford (A) – Premier League
November 23: Villarreal (A) – Champions League
November 28: Chelsea (A) – Premier League
November 30: Arsenal (H) – Premier League
The Norwegian was criticised for not starting Ronaldo against the Toffees – not least by legendary boss Sir Alex Ferguson – and the Portuguese made his feelings known by storming off the pitch after the game.
Former United right-back Gary Neville insists the former Real Madrid star’s actions have only caused the Norwegian another headache.
But his woes extend beyond whether the Portugal star – who has netted five times in six games since his return to the club from Juventus in the summer – figures or not.
A Carabao Cup third-round exit on home soil to West Ham and a shock defeat by Swiss outfit Young Boys in their opening Champions League group game of the season has also not helped matters.
A defeat at home to Aston Villa shocked Old Trafford a week before their draw against Rafael Benitez’s men, while they needed a 95th-minute winner from Cristiano Ronaldo to edge past Villarreal in the Champions League.
Yet despite their inconsistent run this season, the club continue to underline their backing for Solskjaer, with Sportsmail exclusively revealing the club have handed assistant Mike Phelan a new deal until 2024.
That duration matches the length of the new contract Solskjaer signed in July and will be viewed as more backing for the manager.
But the former striker will not gain similar confidence that United’s sticky patch will end any time soon when looking at their next 10 games across all competitions, with West Ham the only side from last season’s Premier League top eight they will not face between now and the end of November.
FA Cup holders Leicester are up first at the King Power Stadium after the international break, although they have been in poor form recently with just one win in their last seven matches in all competitions.
The club continue to support the Norwegian after handing No 2 Mike Phelan (left) a new deal
But Brendan Rodgers will be hopeful the international break will do his side some good before they face United, who drew one and lost two of the three meetings between the two clubs across all competitions last season.
An Axel Tuanzebe own goal rescued a point for the Foxes on Boxing Day, before the East Midlands outfit ran out winners in the FA Cup quarter-final and reverse league fixture at Old Trafford in May.
United then return to European action with a double-header against Atalanta, who currently sit eighth in Serie A, but are unbeaten in the Champions League group stages this season and have threats of their own in the form of Duvan Zapata and Matteo Pessina.
But in between those European fixtures against the Italian outfit United face arch rivals Liverpool – who themselves look capable of reclaiming their Premier League crown – before a trip to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium to end October.
But their fixture nightmare starts with a trip to Leicester, who beat United twice last season
United then face a Champions League double header against unbeaten Atalanta
Solskjaer’s men have only won one of their last seven top-flight matches against Jurgen Klopp’s men, and although they beat Spurs away last season, Nuno Espirito Santo’s side showed a few signs of revival against Aston Villa following a slump of their own and will be hoping to build on that victory.
And it arguably becomes even more challenging for United after that, with November beginning domestically with the visit of Pep Guardiola’s Premier League champions to Old Trafford in the first Manchester derby of the season.
It must be said United have excelled in this fixture in the recent past, winning three of the last five derbies in all competitions.
But Guardiola’s men have signalled their intent already this season by beating European champions Chelsea – who had beaten them in all three games under Thomas Tuchel last season – before coming from behind twice to draw a thriller at Anfield.
In fact, United’s only comfortable victory on paper looks to be coming after the November international break in the form of Watford, who have won just two of their first seven Premier League games back in the top flight.
Solskjaer will also come up against Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp in the run of matches
First up are Liverpool, who themselves are looking good to mount a title challenge this term
However, there is a possibility new boss Claudio Ranieri can galvanise the Hornets squad, with the Italian replacing Spaniard Xisco Munoz – who was ruthlessly sacked at the weekend – at the helm at Vicarage Road this week.
Then comes a European away day at the Estadio de la Ceramica where Villarreal will be looking for revenge after their heartbreaking defeat at Old Trafford at the end of last month thanks to Ronaldo’s last-gasp heroics.
But Unai Emery’s men are the only unbeaten side left in LaLiga this season and will take confidence from the fact that they forced David de Gea into making six saves at Old Trafford and the fact Paco Alcacer managed to find a way past his compatriot.
Arnaut Danjuma was a threat throughout the Group F fixture and was in fine form again at the weekend, netting twice as the Europa League holders overcame Real Betis with relative ease.
United then travel to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in their final match in October
United start their set of Premier League fixtures in November against champions Man City
Solskjaer and United then face a brutal end to November, travelling to Stamford Bridge to take on Tuchel’s Premier League leaders and European champions before welcoming Arsenal to Old Trafford just 48 hours later.
Both matches against Chelsea ended in goalless draws last season for United, while the Gunners won at Old Trafford for the first time since 2006 last term before another game without a goal at the Emirates Stadium in January.
United have won half of their last six matches across all competitions against the Blues, but they have not beaten the Gunners since a 3-1 FA Cup win at the Emirates Stadium in January 2019.
The games will therefore provide little respite for Solskjaer and United at a time when the scrutiny is starting to crank up and the pressure goes up a notch on every occasion they fail to record a victory.
The run of fixtures will really test United’s mental as well as physical strength, but most importantly, Solskjaer will be hoping his big names deliver on the biggest stage.
After the international break United face Watford, who have just appointed Claudio Ranieri
They then travel to play their reverse group-stage match against Unai Emery’s Villarreal
His omission of Ronaldo against Everton was perhaps an admission that the Portuguese will not be able to play every minute during this nightmare run of games over the course of the next six-and-a-half weeks.
But the Norwegian will believe he possesses the strength in depth in his squad to afford Ronaldo some rest while remaining competitive in the horrible string of games coming up, but he will need the likes of Edinson Cavani to aid the Portugal international with a return to goalscoring form sooner rather than later after his injury.
Mason Greenwood has shown he can turn it on when United require a piece of magic already this season, while Anthony Martial will hope to kick on following his goal against Everton.
Solskjaer’s greatest concern in attack will however be the form of £73m signing Jadon Sancho, who has failed to score or register an assist so far this term since joining from Borussia Dortmund, although he delivered a lively cameo after coming on against Everton.
In midfield, Paul Pogba in particular has been unable to maintain his flying start to the season, which saw him record seven assists in his opening four Premier League games.
United end November with tough matches, including against European champions Chelsea
The month then comes to an end with the visit of Arsenal, who won at Old Trafford last term
Bruno Fernandes is still chipping away at the assists but he has scored just once for United since his opening-day hat-trick against Leeds, and behind him Fred and Scott McTominay continue to huff and puff.
Solskjaer will similarly hope for the return of captain Harry Maguire from injury to lead his side through what promises to be a turbulent period for United, especially after Victor Lindelof’s poor performance against Everton.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw have been assured in the full-back positions while de Gea has shown he has returned to his best form with recent displays and Varane is settling in nicely.
But Solskjaer’s squad as a whole will need to demonstrate their mettle to ensure this run of games is the making of him rather than something that could lead to his potential downfall.
United will need to get Paul Pogba (right) back in form to help Bruno Fernandes (left) out
Solskjaer will also be hoping for the return of defender and captain Harry Maguire from injury