Many tipped Manchester United to mount a Premier League title challenge this season following a big summer outlay that saw them recruit Cristiano Ronaldo, Raphael Varane, and Jadon Sancho.
But a stuttering start to their domestic league and cup campaigns as well as a mixed Champions League group stage to date has piled the pressure on boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and not for the first time since he took permanent charge in March 2019.
United have failed to win four of their last six games in all competitions following their stalemate against Everton at Old Trafford on Saturday.
The Norwegian was criticized for not starting Ronaldo against the Toffees – not least by legendary boss Sir Alex Ferguson – and the Portuguese made his feelings known by storming off the pitch after the game.
Former United right-back Gary Neville insists the former Real Madrid star’s actions have only caused the Norwegian another headache.
A Carabao Cup third-round exit on home soil to West Ham and a shock defeat by Swiss outfit Young Boys in their opening Champions League group game of the season has also not helped matters.
A defeat at home to Aston Villa shocked Old Trafford a week before their draw against Rafael Benitez’s men, while they needed a 95th-minute winner from Cristiano Ronaldo to edge past Villarreal in the Champions League.
Yet despite their inconsistent run this season, the club continues to underline their backing for Solskjaer, with Sportsmail exclusively revealing the club has handed assistant Mike Phelan a new deal until 2024.
That duration matches the length of the new contract Solskjaer signed in July and will be viewed as more backing for the manager.
But the former striker will not gain similar confidence that United’s sticky patch will end any time soon when looking at their next 10 games across all competitions, with West Ham the only side from last season’s Premier League top eight they will not face between now and the end of November.
FA Cup holders Leicester are up first at the King Power Stadium after the international break, although they have been in poor form recently with just one win in their last seven matches in all competitions.
But Brendan Rodgers will be hopeful the international break will do his side some good before they face United, who drew one and lost two of the three meetings between the two clubs across all competitions last season.
An Axel Tuanzebe own goal rescued a point for the Foxes on Boxing Day, before the East Midlands outfit ran out winners in the FA Cup quarter-final and reverse league fixture at Old Trafford in May.
United then returns to European action with a double-header against Atalanta, who currently sit eighth in Serie A, but are unbeaten in the Champions League group stages this season and have threats of their own in the form of Duvan Zapata and Matteo Pessina.
But in between those European fixtures against the Italian outfit United face arch-rivals Liverpool – who themselves look capable of reclaiming their Premier League crown – before a trip to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium to end October.
Solskjaer’s men have only won one of their last seven top-flight matches against Jurgen Klopp’s men, and although they beat Spurs away last season, Nuno Espirito Santo’s side showed a few signs of a revival against Aston Villa following a slump of their own and will be hoping to build on that victory.
And it arguably becomes even more challenging for United after that, with November beginning domestically with the visit of Pep Guardiola’s Premier League champions to Old Trafford in the first Manchester derby of the season.
It must be said United has excelled in this fixture in the recent past, winning three of the last five derbies in all competitions.
But Guardiola’s men have signaled their intent already this season by beating European champions Chelsea – who had beaten them in all three games under Thomas Tuchel last season – before coming from behind twice to draw a thriller at Anfield.
In fact, United’s only comfortable victory on paper looks to be coming after the November international break in the form of Watford, who have won just two of their first seven Premier League games back in the top flight.
However, there is a possibility new boss Claudio Ranieri can galvanize the Hornets squad, with the Italian replacing Spaniard Xisco Munoz – who was ruthlessly sacked at the weekend – at the helm at Vicarage Road this week.
Then comes a European away day at the Estadio de la Ceramica where Villarreal will be looking for revenge after their heartbreaking defeat at Old Trafford at the end of last month thanks to Ronaldo’s last-gasp heroics.
But Unai Emery’s men are the only unbeaten side left in LaLiga this season and will take confidence from the fact that they forced David de Gea into making six saves at Old Trafford and the fact Paco Alcacer managed to find a way past his compatriot.
Solskjaer and United then face a brutal end to November, traveling to Stamford Bridge to take on Tuchel’s Premier League leaders and European champions before welcoming Arsenal to Old Trafford just 48 hours later.
Both matches against Chelsea ended in goalless draws last season for United, while the Gunners won at Old Trafford for the first time since 2006 last term before another game without a goal at the Emirates Stadium in January.
United have won half of their last six matches across all competitions against the Blues, but they have not beaten the Gunners since a 3-1 FA Cup win at the Emirates Stadium in January 2019.
The games will therefore provide little respite for Solskjaer and United at a time when the scrutiny is starting to crank up and the pressure goes up a notch on every occasion they fail to record a victory.
The run of fixtures will really test United’s mental as well as physical strength, but most importantly, Solskjaer will be hoping his big names deliver on the biggest stage.