Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Will Return To Work At Carrington Today With A Smile On His Face

The former United striker has overseen six defeats in 12 games – including back-to-back embarrassments at home to Liverpool and Manchester City – but once again looks set to cling on to his job. Time is running out for Solskjaer, but the clock hasn’t stopped yet.

But Solskjaer’s smile might be a little brighter today. His cheery demeanor can often lift the mood, but as he begins to prepare his side for the trip to Watford on Saturday he might wear the grin of someone who has survived another dark week.

United had a week to dispense of the Norwegian’s services after the 5-0 defeat to Liverpool, but after much introspection, they held firm. Now they’ve had the final international break for four months, coming hot on the heels of a derby defeat that was about as humbling as it gets, but again they’ve resisted temptation to make a managerial change.

The international break in November is the third in successive months that halts the flow at the start of the season, but the end of this fortnight also signals the starting gun being fired on the most demanding run of the campaign. The schedule is now relentless until January.

That’s why this break is often considered a sacking season. Before the last Premier League weekend had finished Daniel Farke had been sacked by Norwich City and Dean Smith had been handed his P45 by Aston Villa. In the Championship it was Middlesbrough who let Neil Warnock go before the international break had even begun.

But the manager considered most under pressure has survived. Solskjaer was the favorite in the spurious Premier League sack race just three weeks ago but since three managers have been relieved of their duties and the 48-year-old hasn’t.

United are certainly investing plenty of faith in their manager. Solskjaer has survived difficult periods before and he has a knack of steadying the ship when it looks like it’s about to sink, but the situation has rarely been this desperate, at least in terms of performances.

After 11 Premier League games United might only be five points off the top four, but the performances have been startling from a side-tipped to challenge for the title at the start of the season. They also sit top of their Champions League group but have had to come behind to win late against Villarreal and Atalanta, before salvaging an undeserved draw in injury-time against the Serie A side in Bergamo recently.

United’s biggest issue with changing boss now might be the lack of a stellar replacement and the difficulty associated with getting any of their potential targets out of current employment. Mauricio Pochettino, Erik ten Hag, and Brendan Rodgers would all come under consideration, but wouldn’t be easily attainable from Paris St-Germain, Ajax, or Leicester City.

So United has decided to try and keep the faith, but it feels like there’s an awful lot of crossing of fingers and hoping to go on. There’s been little sign recently that Solskjaer knows how to turn this season around.

This stage of the season begins with three successive away games, with trips to Watford, Villarreal and Chelsea. The next free midweek is the week leading up to Christmas and United face 12 games between now and January 3.

There’s a lot that could go right in that time, or more pertinently at the moment a lot that could go wrong. United might already have conceded their hopes of a title challenge, but the top four is non-negotiable for the Glazers and rightly so with the squad Solskjaer has assembled.

With West Ham showing no sign of dropping way, Arsenal finding form under Mikel Arteta and Antonio Conte likely to have an impact at Tottenham, the competition for fourth could be fierce. United will be forced to act if they drop behind that race.

The problem now is that the schedule doesn’t really allow for a smooth transition. The reason others clubs made early changes last week is to give them time to get the successor in and give him a week on the training ground. That privilege is lost once the action resumes next week.

United’s executives will be hoping the club can limp on under Solskjaer, progressing in the Champions League and regaining a footing in the top four. But if that doesn’t happen they might regret having not made the chance last week. If it’s to come in the next few months it will be significantly more complicated.

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