Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Photo: VCG
Manchester United welcome Liverpool to Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon and there is a feeling among the club’s followers that it could not come at a worse time. Jurgen Klopp’s European champions have won every Premier League game so far this season and they will feel confident that they can extend that run – and potentially their lead over league champions Manchester City – with victory at their fiercest rivals.
That is insult to injury for everyone involved at the 20-time champions of England. Widespread reports suggest that the club understand their choice as manager to right the ship is one they need to back long term to steer them back to the UEFA Champions League – and whatever happens against Liverpool is not going to change the view in the boardroom. But there is also a sense of deja vu given it was less than a year ago that Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United rein ended after a 3-1 loss to Liverpool at Anfield in December last year.
Would it be so hard to see similar toothless humiliation end the Norwegian’s nine months in charge? Even if somehow he oversees a draw or who knows how, a win, is it not just a matter of time until another regime change in the club’s ongoing attempts to replace Sir Alex Ferguson in the dugout?
After Liverpool it is Partizan away in the Europa League, a game that should be more difficult on paper than the trip to play AZ Alkmaar in the last round that resulted in United failing to register a shot on target over the 90 minutes and an extension of the woeful away record since that night in Paris that convinced the club’s owners to make his move permanent.
It does not get any easier, but then how could it for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer? His side’s loss to Newcastle marked the first time that a Steve Bruce side had ever beaten Manchester United and saw his permanent record extend to played 21, won five, lost nine and drawn seven.
The trip to Serbia is followed with a trip to face Norwich City on Sunday afternoon under the floodlights at Carrow Road, a team who beat champions Manchester City earlier in the season to prove that they are not daunted by their return to the Premier League. The run of away games continues with a trip to Stamford Bridge to play Chelsea in the Carabao Cup. United met Chelsea on the opening day of the season and came away 4-0 winners but their last League Cup fixture saw them need penalties to overcome League One side Rochdale after a dull 1-1 draw at Old Trafford.
Chelsea, meanwhile, have improved immeasurably since that opening-day humbling in a game they can feel hard done by to have lost. The form book would certainly suggest the hosts are more likely to go through and United’s barren spell for silverware will continue.
United then travel to Bournemouth for a Premier League game at the start of November. The visit to Dean Court is one of the longest away trips for the Old Trafford side and while Solskjaer guided his side to victory over the Cherries in one of his first games in charge as caretaker, that 4-1 win feels a lifetime ago rather than on the second to last day of last year.
The truth is, all games start to look difficult the longer a struggling run goes on, and there is little reason to believe there will be respite before December’s meetings with Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City, even with matches against newly promoted Sheffield United and Aston Villa, home games against Brighton & Hove Albion and Partizan, and a trip to Astana for the penultimate Europa League tie.
The bookmakers have it that Solskjaer is among the favorites to be sacked between Everton’s Marco Silva and the man linked with the Old Trafford hot seat when the Norwegian was still caretaker, Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino. Those oddsmakers suggest it is a case of when rather than if when it comes to Solskjaer being sent packing, so what were the last straws for those others that came before him?
The last manager before Ferguson was tempted down from Aberdeen was given his marching orders on November 6, 1986, just two days after his side was beaten by Southampton in the League Cup. To make matters worse, the club were also in the bottom four of what was still the English First Division with a third of the season gone. Solskjaer has kept the side out of the relegation zone so far but they are only two points above it going into the weekend and results elsewhere could see them drop into it with a heavy defeat against Liverpool. That’s a very real risk given that the Norwegian’s post-permanent hire form has been just that – relegation form.
His final game after 26 years was away to West Bromwich Albion and ended in a bizarre 5-5 draw driven by a hat trick home substitute and future United player Romelu Lukaku. “Football, bloody hell,” might have been Ferguson’s exclamation for his most famous night as Manchester United boss but it would have done for his last game too.
The “Chosen One” joined from Everton and was sent packing by them after a 2-0 loss at his former club. His departure had been coming, with the club out of the Champions League and the qualification places. Moyes admitted that he cried after being sacked – as did his caretaker replacement Ryan Giggs, whose own rein ended with a 1-1 draw against Southampton.
Louis van Gaal
The Dutchman can feel hard done by – and he does – after leaving the club following winning a final. His last game was a 2-1 win over Crystal Palace at Wembley to claim the 2017 FA Cup, which he called his “biggest achievement.” United came from behind and a man down to see Jesse Lingard hit the winner. Mourinho was named Van Gaal’s replacement days later.
We all know how it ended for Mourinho, but how and when will it end for his replacement?