Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer pointed the blame at the feet of the officials following his side’s 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa at Old Trafford
Solskjaer won’t blame Fernandes despite penalty miss.
When a manager starts looking for excuses to justify a defeat, you know the pressure is on.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer did just that after this defeat, which piled the pressure on the Manchester United boss and served as a brutal reality check to their title aspirations.
A third defeat in four, a second in a row at home, has amplified the scrutiny on Solskjaer and emboldened those who believe he is out of his depth in the Old Trafford job.
Aston Villa deservedly left Old Trafford with three points, their enterprise and efficiency yielding a first win at United in 12 years, Solskjaer seeking refuge in unconvincing mitigation.
The United boss claimed Villa’s 88th-minute winner should have been ruled out for offside, then blamed their players for crowding around Bruno Fernandes before his added-time penalty miss.
Both claims from Solskjaer were nothing more than diversionary tactics, designed to shift the focus away from his and United’s shortcomings, which have become a recurring theme in recent weeks.
Defeat in their Champions League opener to Young Boys, a Carabao Cup exit at home to West Ham and a first Premier League defeat of the season here has cast a familiar shadow over Solskjaer.
Even Solskjaer’s most loyal supporters are now questioning, after two full seasons of undoubted progress under their former striker, whether he is the right man to take them to the next level.
The next few weeks will go a long way to determining that, and it is no exaggeration to state that Solskjaer will find his position under increasing pressure if he cannot turn things around.
On Wednesday, United host Villarreal, their bogey team, beat them on penalties in last season’s Europa League final, with Solskjaer likely to be without three of his first-choice back-four.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka is suspended, while injuries sustained against Villa to Luke Shaw and skipper Harry Maguire are likely to leave Solskjaer having to field a makeshift back-four.
Nothing less than victory over the Spanish side will do after United’s woeful recent run, but there was little here to suggest that is a given, with their worrying lack of fluency and fortitude.
“I know these players, I know they will fight to put this right,” said Solskjaer. “We have a Champions League game this week and we’re looking forward to that.
“We didn’t start well in the Champions League but we’ll be fired up, the fans and the players for that one, and we’ll be on the front foot looking to win.”
United may have produced 28 shots, but posed little genuine threat to the Villa goal, and was undone once again by a set-piece, Kortney Hause heading in from a corner late on.
After Villarreal, United face a tricky October, which includes fixtures against Everton, Leicester, Atalanta and Liverpool, with champions Manchester City lurking in early November.
That run promises to be a huge test of Solskjaer’s ability to haul United out of their current predicament and show the past few games were a blip, rather than proof he has taken the team as far as he can.
United have staked a lot on Solskjaer after third and second-place finishes in the Premier League saw him handed a new long-term contract in the summer, as well as key additions to the squad in Jadon Sancho, Raphael Varane and returning hero Cristiano Ronaldo.
But that deal will provide little security for Solskjaer if he cannot reverse the current situation and United are forced to make a bold and uncomfortable call on one of the most popular and iconic figures in the club’s illustrious history.
With the formidable squad he has now, there can be no excuses for not challenging for the title, which is why defeats like this could ultimately spell the beginning of the end for Solskjaer.