- Four losses in seven matches have put pressure on Manchester United
- Saturday’s 4-2 loss to Leicester exposed worrying shortcomings in the team
- Boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer needs feedback from his players against Atalanta
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can only hope that Manchester United put up a decent defensive performance against Atalanta on Wednesday night, as they themselves did on the eve of this Group F tie at Old Trafford.
Days after scoring four goals at Leicester, United will have to pick themselves up for the next Test in a crucial round of games that could leave the club completely in jeopardy from the funk of its opening season.
After four losses in seven matches and criticism from all quarters that it is a United team that still falls short of the sum of his parts, Solskjaer seized the opportunity to defend his record since Jose Mourinho in December 2018. .
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has defended his record since replacing Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford
‘We have made progress over the years,’ he insisted. ‘Sixth when I was here for half a season then third and second. You can see the progress, improvement and development, and this season we are still looking to improve.
‘Accepting four goals is a big eye opener for us that we need to improve on loads of details at different levels.
“Every team will go through a bad phase and we are in bad form right now. We know it and we keep our hands up that we need to improve. I am just waiting for the response.
Solskjaer definitely needs one of his players on Wednesday night. Leicester’s defeat exposed worrying shortcomings in United from a porous defense and midfield to an attack that is unable or unwilling to support capacity with hard grafts.
The Portugal star came under scrutiny in three weeks after he had to defend Cristiano Ronaldo’s work-rate on Tuesday as his dramatic stoppage-time winner at home to Villarreal revived United’s Champions League campaign.
The addition of Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho and Rafael Varane – currently injured – has left Solskjaer with a better squad but fewer excuses, and he knows it. United may have made progress under his leadership, but they still seem to be well behind their rivals.
Manchester United boss needs answers from his players on Wednesday night
Gary Neville has been teasing about his old club, but has stopped calling for Solskjaer’s sacking. Fellow Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher was not so philanthropic.
The Norwegian smiled when it was brought up and suggested that Carragher’s views may not be completely unrelated to United’s upcoming game at home to Liverpool.
“I prefer not to see them (Neville and Carragher),” he replied. ‘It doesn’t affect me. You sometimes see some comments, but I had no idea what they were saying now.
‘Of course, we’ve got Liverpool on Sunday so Jamie is always looking at these little things. I have my values, I have found my way to manage and I believe in myself.
Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher believes United need a ‘better manager’ to win trophies
‘As long as the club believes in me, I am quite sure that Jamie Carragher’s opinion will not change.’
There are indications that Solskjaer has retained the full support of his employers. So does he feel secure in the job?
“I am in conversation with the club all the time and it is an open and honest discussion,” the 48-year-old said.
‘There’s pressure all the time. Of course there is pressure on me, but we have gone through this in the past and as individuals and as a team, we have strengthened it.
“Yes, we have signed players who have raised our expectations. Other teams have signed players and improvised as well, so we’re all in the same boat as the top teams.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s work-rate has come under scrutiny since winning against Villarreal
‘Bouncing back is very important. In the Champions League group stage, if you win all three home games and get the result away from home, you will most likely go through.
‘That’s what we’re aiming for for now. A win against a very good Atalanta side will be a big and a big inspiration for us.
The first meeting between the two clubs pits United against Italian opponents who are currently at the top of a group that is proving more difficult than it was in August.
Solskjaer won’t need to be reminded that Atalanta won 2-0 at Anfield last season as they qualified for the knockout stages behind Liverpool.
“Not much has happened lately,” he admitted. ‘We have fixed a few things and hopefully tomorrow we can see the result of that in performance.’
United will still be expected to return to form soon, despite facing a tough phase of next encounters