By Martyn Herman
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer received yet another vote of confidence this week as speculation swirled about his position but the spotlight remains fixed on the Norwegian ahead of Saturday’s visit to Tottenham Hotspur.
Unlike Barcelona, who sacked former player Ronald Koeman on Wednesday, United’s hierarchy have resisted calls to send Solskjaer packing after last weekend’s unthinkable 5-0 home thrashing by arch-rivals Liverpool in the Premier League.
But goodwill shown to a former favourite on the pitch can only last so long and defeat by Tottenham in north London will surely push Solskjaer ever closer to the trapdoor, especially with a derby against Manchester City the following week.
Condemnation rained down on United’s players after an Old Trafford debacle described as an “embarrassment” by forward Marcus Rashford — a humiliation that left United in seventh place with 14 points from nine games.
United have picked up only one point from their last four league games and all the early-season optimism of a potential title challenge has evaporated.
The return to Old Trafford of Cristiano Ronaldo helped fuel fans’ hopes that United’s trophy drought could end this season, but the Portuguese striker has failed to find the target in his last four Premier League games.
With Paul Pogba suspended after his red card against Liverpool, all eyes will be on Solskjaer’s team selection for the trip to London with Ronaldo’s starting place in doubt.
United’s firepower is enviable but having shipped nine goals in their last two Premier League games, United are crying out for some midfield backbone and defensive cohesion and Solskjaer could turn to out-of-favour holding player Nemanja Matic.
While so much of the focus is on United’s predicament, Tottenham’s own problems have clearly not gone away, as shown by last weekend’s 1-0 defeat by West Ham United.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s side are one place and one point better off than United with the jury very much still out on whether the Portuguese is the right man for the job.
Newcastle United’s brave new era since being taken over by a Saudi Arabian-backed consortium has begun in underwhelming fashion and things will not get any easier as they seek a first league win of the season against leaders Chelsea on Saturday.
Chelsea put seven goals past Norwich City last weekend and have won five of their last six league games against Newcastle who will again be under interim manager Graeme Jones.
Second-placed Liverpool will aim to follow-up their 5-0 routs of Watford and United as they take on fifth-placed Brighton & Hove Albion at home while champions Manchester City host a Crystal Palace side who have drawn their last four league games.
West Ham, who knocked holders Man City out of the League Cup on penalties on Wednesday, are up to fourth place and will be in buoyant mood at Aston Villa on Sunday.
Bottom club Norwich will sense an opportunity to bounce back from the humbling at Chelsea with a home match against struggling Leeds United on Sunday. Burnley, who like Norwich and Newcastle are winless, host a Brentford side yet to suffer an away defeat this season. (Reporting by Martyn Herman Editing by Christian Radnedge)