Man United don't look the sum of their expensive parts so far

Manchester United DON’T look the sum of their expensive parts with three defeats in four games adding early-season pressure that the players and manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could do without

  • Manchester United fell to their third defeat in four games on Saturday afternoon
  • Bruno Fernandes skied over a penalty as a point slipped through their fingers
  • Their loss adds pressure for both the players and manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
  • United though do still sit just one point behind current league leaders Liverpool 

It is such a fine line between heaven and hell. That was Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s choice of words.

He was talking about the stoppage-time penalty Bruno Fernandes had just stuck into the Stretford End, a week after David de Gea salvaged victory for Manchester United in similar circumstances at West Ham.

But the United boss could just as easily have been referring to himself. The margins can be tight in football management and Solskjaer is treading a fine line, even before the first autumn leaves have hit the ground.

Bruno Fernandes skied a late penalty as Manchester United fell to a defeat against Aston Villa

The Red Devils have now fallen to a third defeat in four games across all competitions

Three defeats in four games (the solitary win would have been a draw but for De Gea’s penalty save) is poor form for any manager, never mind one with a squad as good as Solskjaer’s.

A shock Champions League defeat by Young Boys in Switzerland and a Carabao Cup exit to West Ham were never going to set the alarm bells ringing.

But this? Aston Villa are as close as it gets to a home banker for United and the sense of shock around Old Trafford after a first Premier League loss of the season was palpable.

The joyous optimism that greeted Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to the club and a thumping win over Newcastle just a fortnight ago has been replaced by a sobering reality.

A third home defeat in the space of a week seems unthinkable, but United know just how dangerous Villarreal will be on Wednesday night having lost to the Spaniards in the Europa League final in May.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s (L) position is still safe but the result has added early-season pressure

Solskjaer is likely to be without captain Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw for the Group F game after both defenders went off injured on Saturday in front of England manager Gareth Southgate. It was that kind of day.

‘We had started the season well until today,’ said Solskjaer. ‘It wasn’t good enough from us. But I know these players, and I know they will fight to put this right.

‘We have a Champions League game this week and we are looking forward to it. We didn’t start well but we will be fired up, the fans and the players, for that.’

There is no immediate threat to Solskjaer’s position and certainly no appetite within the club for change. After all, United are fourth in the table, a point behind leaders Liverpool, and still odds-on to advance in Europe.

But the sudden dip in form has brought early-season pressure the manager and his players can do without.

The concern is that United simply don’t look the sum of their expensive parts. The £136million spent on Ronaldo, Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho this summer was meant to take them to the next level, but it has only raised expectations that the team are struggling to meet.

Big signings have raised expectations that the team are thus far struggling to meet

Varane’s partnership with Maguire is a work in progress in a defence that looks more shaky than last season, and United were overrun by Villa in midfield.

However, it is in attack where Solskjaer is struggling to accommodate an embarrassment of riches.

Edinson Cavani added to the options when he returned from injury as a late substitute on Saturday. Sancho, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial couldn’t even get off the bench because of the two defensive injuries. Marcus Rashford is due back in mid-October. 

There are those who argue that Ronaldo’s return has had a detrimental effect on his old club.

United could be without Luke Shaw and Harry Maguire for their clash against Villarreal

It is hard to agree with that view, but he was quiet here and his presence put more pressure on Fernandes after Villa goalscorer Kortney Hause handled in the box in the third minute of stoppage time.

Chosen to take the penalty ahead of his Portuguese compatriot, Fernandes inexplicably ballooned his effort high into the stand — his second miss in 23 and an awful one at that.

Ronaldo was first down the tunnel moments later, as ever a magnet for attention in bad times and good.

Solskjaer was unhappy that Villa’s players, in particular goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, had tried to put off Fernandes.

Aston Villa’s first victory at Old Trafford since 2009 was a result they thoroughly deserved

He also felt that De Gea was impeded when Hause — starting his first league game of the season only because on-loan United defender Axel Tuanzebe was ineligible — lost Cavani at a corner to head home in the 88th minute. But Solskjaer sounded like a manager clutching at straws.

Victory was no more than Villa deserved — only their second at Old Trafford in 38 years. They have suffered a record 37 Premier League defeats against United, but played with belief and created the best chances.

Hause said: ‘We believe we can go toe to toe with pretty much anyone in the league, and we’ve proved that. It was a deserved win.’




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