Manchester United’s 1-1 draw away at Southampton left them with just five points from their opening four games – their worst start to a Premier League campaign in 27 years.
Despite this United did go on to be league champions in 1992/93, and although they won’t repeat that same feat this season, they have every chance of regaining a top-four place.
Following the game at St. Mary’s, there was the usual uproar from United fans on social media – with a select few calling for Solskjaer’s dismissal. Regardless of the poor points return from the opening games, that is not something the board is going to consider – and rightly so.
When Solskjaer was permanently appointed at the end of March, he sold United a long-term plan that involved building side around young British talent – something the owners dully invested in during summer transfer window.
If the Norwegian were to be dismissed, and a new manager was brought in, yet another season would be written off as yet another head coach looked to make the team ‘their own’.
With the Glazers ownership of United so financially motivated, they will be fully aware of the expenses that would come as a result of sacking Solskjaer – they have finally backed a United manager in the transfer window, and they won’t be ready to back another.
In short, Solskjaer leaving would only push United’s return to former glories further over the horizon.
But should the former Cardiff manager’s future even be in question after the first four games of this season?
Had the two penalties against Crystal Palace and Wolves been successfully dispatched, it is more than likely that United would’ve been sitting in third place, just one point behind Manchester City.
Regardless of the performances, there would’ve been few complaints from the Old Trafford faithful if that were the case.
The young side that Solskjaer has assembled cannot be expected to blow teams away in the same fashion as rivals City and Liverpool – not for a few years at least.
Their inexperience has been evident in the games against Southampton and Wolves, as they failed to capitalise on their dominance, or retain a lead in both matches.
The positive though is that they are dominating these games, and if they can start to convert their chances from the open play as well as the penalty spot, they will be rewarded for their attacking football.
United have shown that they can be clinical this season though – they put Frank Lampard’s Chelsea to the sword on the opening day of the season and showed United fans the frightening potential they possess.
Chelsea are of course one of United’s direct rivals when it comes to securing Champions League football for next season, and the early signs are that they are in a similar position as the Red Devils.
They too are a particularly young side with an inexperienced club legend at the helm. Lampard’s men have shown a similar naivety to United, most recently when they squandered a two-goal lead against newly-promoted Sheffield United.
United are far from perfect defensively, but after the additions of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire, they look far more assured at the back than Chelsea, who have already conceded nine times this season.
With that being said, along with the 4-0 thumping, United look to be in a much better position than the London side to finish in the top four.
With City and Liverpool almost nailed on to finish as the top two, United’s other main rivals for the Champions League spots will be Tottenham and Arsenal.
Despite a strong campaign last season, there seems to be some unrest at Tottenham, and that has been mirrored by their performances on the pitch.
Speculation has grown around the future of manager Mauricio Pochettino, and the influential Christian Eriksen also appears unsettled after a potential move to Spain looks to have fallen through.
A defeat away at Newcastle United last week highlighted their struggles, and it would be no surprise to see Spurs dragged into the top-four dogfight that they have avoided in recent years.
There is no doubt they have a stronger squad than United at this point in time, but if the current situation worsens to the point where Pochettino leaves, Solskjaer’s men could take advantage of that turmoil to leapfrog the North London club.
Based upon the first few games, Unai Emery’s Arsenal are perhaps the strongest candidates for third place.
After a full season under the former PSG manager, they are beginning to regain their attacking flair that faded under Arsene Wenger.
With the addition of £72million winger Nicolas Pepe to the already prolific duo of Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, they are almost definitely stronger than United at the top end of the pitch,
Their defensive frailties are yet to be solved though, despite the addition of David Luiz. The game against Liverpool highlighted that despite the Brazilian’s vast experience, he is still prone to rash decision-making.
Arsenal’s defence will let them down at some point this season, and if United are able to stay in touch with their bitter rivals, they could capitalise on that weakness.
Solskjaer’s side are far from the finished article, but the reprieve for him and his players is that the teams they are competing with aren’t either.
They may have to rely on other sides issues, rather their own excellence to reach the top four this season, but United fans won’t complain if it means hearing the Champions League anthem at Old Trafford once again.
- Why the battle for survival will be just as intriguing as the title race this season - September 3, 2019
- Why United will still finish in the top four this season - September 3, 2019
- Why Christian Eriksen leaving wouldn’t be Spurs’ biggest issue this season - August 19, 2019