Manchester United have been left licking their wounds after a chastening week at Old Trafford. The Red Devils followed up their Capital One Cup exit by West Ham United with another home defeat, this time at the hands of Aston Villa in the Premier League.
Those back-to-back home losses have left manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with plenty of thinking to do as the Norwegian looks to arrest a run of three defeats in his side’s last four matches. The alarm bells will continue to ring around Old Trafford until Wednesday night when United welcome Villarreal in the Champions League in desperate need of a positive result after losing in their opening game of the competition.
The Key Questions Facing Manchester United After a Chastening Week at Old Trafford
How Will Red Devils Bounce Back After Cup and League Defeats?
A much-changed Manchester United side slumped to a 1-0 loss against West Ham earlier in the week, exiting the Carabao Cup at the third round stage.
Eyebrows were raised not only by the result but by the manner of the performance. David Moyes’ Hammers also put out a second-string team for the fixture, and their hosts should have had enough quality to break them down in front of 72,000 fans at Old Trafford.
Aside from a strong penalty shout in the first half, Solskjaer’s men were barely able to lay a finger on their visitors throughout, and one route towards silverware has been shut off for the 48-year-old before his team had even got going towards it.
As such, this weekend’s clash with Aston Villa was seen as the perfect opportunity for the Red Devils to bounce back and maintain their strong form in the Premier League. Having rested all his key players for Saturday’s match-up – and talked up his team’s preparation in the build-up to kick-off – another 1-0 defeat was not in the script for Solskjaer.
With so little time before the next crucial fixture, how his team bounces back will therefore be crucial for a manager who now finds himself under pressure. Solskjaer’s detractors have used this week as evidence to argue that he is not the right man to lead this team to any silverware in cup competitions and that he has taken them as far as he can in the league. The coming weeks will reveal a great deal as to whether they are right.
Who is on Penalty Duty?
The subject of penalty kicks has been a hot topic around Old Trafford in the early stages of the campaign, especially as Solskjaer clearly feels his team are not being awarded enough of them.
Prior to facing Aston Villa, the United boss even suggested comments made by his Liverpool counterpart Jurgen Klopp last season was an important factor as to why the Theatre of Dreams had so far been unable to find out whether Bruno Fernandes remained on spot-kick duty for his side.
In the dying stages of Saturday’s defeat, they thought they had their answer following a handball by Villa goalscorer Kortney Hause. That is until Fernandes blazed his penalty high over the crossbar and failed to rescue a point that would have been hugely harsh on the winning team.
In consequence, the debate has continued to rage on as to whether the Portugal midfielder – with his countryman Cristiano Ronaldo waiting in the wings – will take another penalty again this season.
That debate comes despite Fernandes’ otherwise exemplary record from 12 yards. The 27-year-old holds a career success rate of over 90 per cent when it comes to converting penalty kicks. Ronaldo, meanwhile, averages two misses for every ten penalties he takes in club and international football.
Can Manchester United Belatedly Outfox Villarreal?
If Manchester United fail to beat Spanish opponents Villarreal at Old Trafford, the pressure on Solskjaer will rise to searing levels, the likes of which he has so far yet to experience since taking his job on permanently in March 2019.
After Swiss outfit Young Boys shocked their illustrious opponents on matchday one in the Champions League, United must find a way to take three points against Unai Emery’s men.
The match-up is a repeat of last season’s Europa League final, which the Spanish side won on penalties after a largely drab encounter in Gdansk.
English sides typically struggle against Spanish opposition in Europe. Of the last five finals contested by teams from the two countries, only one has been won by an English team.
Granted, Wednesday’s fixture is not a cup final. But, in terms of its importance to Solskjaer following the events of the past week, it may just feel like one.