Make or Break: Manchester United’s tough run of fixtures after the international break

Manchester United were held to a disappointing 1-1 draw against Everton in the final game before the October International break. Despite being played in front of an eager and packed Old Trafford, United were unable to muster up a second goal in response to Everton’s second half equaliser. 

Questions surrounding the poor defending in the build-up to the second goal still remain, mostly directed towards Brazilian midfielder Fredwhile Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s credibility as the right manager to take United towards silverware has once again been cast into doubt. While the result still leaves United very much within touching distance of title rivals, there is a strong feeling of frustration surrounding the club after so far failing to improve on the poor home form of last season

A draw is obviously not the end of the world, but it does mean United have taken just one point from games against Everton and Aston Villa, both at home, which is considerably worrying for a team that should be challenging for the title.

United go into the International break two points behind European Champions and title favourites Chelsea, who sit on 16 points, and on paper this doesn’t look so bad. However, considering the tricky nature of the run of fixtures Solskjaer’s men will face immediately after the International break, some would argue that United needed to accumulate several more points before going into the break. 

United are yet to face a “top six” side, and their first game after International duty is against Leicester away, never an easy hunting ground for any side. The importance of these fixtures carries even more weight than usual now, as questions continue to mount surrounding Solskjaer and his ability as a manager.

The Norwegian has been backed considerably and secured star signings like Jadon Sancho and Cristiano Ronaldo, yet the team doesn’t look like it reflects the quality of players. A growing impatience amongst United supporters coupled with a resurgent new energy and ambition derived from the return of legendary figure Ronaldo has perhaps ignited the flames of panic further in regard to not getting desired results, but it’s difficult to argue against groans when United are losing seemingly straightforward games at home once more

In addition to declining league form, United were eliminated from the Carabao Cup and have struggled in the Champions League to put in a good performance, United sit joint second with Young Boys in Group F as it stands. All these factors combined means the upcoming October/November period of games could be defining not just for the season, but the managers fate as well.

With that being said, here’s what’s coming up for United:

Premier League: Leicester City (Away) – 16 October

The first task for United after the International break is a trip to the Foxes den, in what is expected to be a difficult encounter. This game could be cited as the most pivotal game in this run of fixtures as it has the power to set the tone and momentum for the games following it, meaning it is vital United get three points. 

The absence of club football for two weeks means that Solskjaer and his coaching team have an extended period of time to try and formulate any new tactics they deem necessary to correct the lacklustre performances. 

Fortunately for United, Leicester have struggled so far this season to hit the heights they had last campaign, meaning United need to take advantage of the Foxes perhaps not being at their brilliant best.

Difficulty Rating 3/5

UEFA Champions League: Atalanta (Home and Away) – 20 October and 2 November

Both Champions League games against Atalanta have been grouped together here, played back to back in the Champions League with the first game at Old Trafford on October 20.  Atalanta are top of Group F and look to be one of the favourites to progress, meaning they will come to Old Trafford with a high level of confidence and belief. 

If United are to overcome the Italian side they are going to have to use the result against Villarreal as a springboard in belief and put in a much better performance. Anything less than four points across the two games will lead United into dangerous territory for the remainder of the group with a tricky away game at Villarreal still to play, it’s vital United win at least one and are not defeated. 

The away tie will be played on November 2, sandwiched between an away game at Tottenham and a subsequent home game against Manchester City, meaning squad rotation will come into effect.

Difficulty Rating 3/5

Premier League: Liverpool (Home) – 24 October

Manchester United playing against Liverpool is always a big deal, but the significance of this game is dialled up even more as United face their first real test against potential title opposition. Liverpool have started the season strongly in the Premier League and recently destroyed Porto 5-1 away from home in the Champions League

While Jurgen Klopp’s men couldn’t replicate title winning form last season, it seems they have started this campaign with a resurgence and an abundance of energy and quality. This will be an incredibly tough game for United and will need everyone to be at their best, including the manager. A win here would undoubtedly restore hope that United can compete and winning the title this season and may even quell the fire directed towards Solskjaer.

Difficulty Rating 5/5

Premier League: Tottenham Hotspur (Away) – 30 October 

A trip to struggling Tottenham Hotspur is on the agenda for the end of October and what would ordinarily be a tricky game looks like it could be slightly more manageable than seasons past. Spurs still possess the firepower of Heung-Min Son and Harry Kane, although transfer sagas and a change of manager have created a sense of unease and confusion at the club leading to Spurs struggling to perform so far this season. No doubt Nuno Espirito Santos will do his utmost to turn his fortunes around, but if Spurs perform as they have earlier in the season, United should go to London expecting to take away all three points.

Difficulty Rating 3/5

Premier League: Manchester City (Home) – 6 November

A Manchester derby kicks off the league games for November and United once again face a tough City side. Solskjaer has actually got the better of Pep Guardiola on several occasions, winning four times over the Spaniard during his tenure as United manager, which may give a little boost of confidence going into the fixture. City have started the campaign decently, dropping some unexpected points although remain at the top end of the table. 

United will have to be much better in midfield if they are to contain the creative players City possesses, Solskjaer may look to hit on the counter with pace although that style of playing at home is undesirable amongst a lot of United supporters. A result against City is key in keeping up with the title contenders, and depending on results before this could once again be pivotal for Solskjaer and his future.

Difficulty Rating 4/5

The Rest of November: Watford (Premier League), Villarreal (Champions League), Chelsea, Arsenal (both Premier League)

The remainder of November see’s United first face a tricky away game against Watford, another game where the expectation will be to win but the reality of doing so is much harder. This game is between the City game and an away game against Villarreal, meaning it’s likely some players will be rested. 

The Villarreal game itself will be a massive test, English teams don’t have a great record in Spain, and the Spanish outfit will feel they deserved at least a draw at Old Trafford so will go into the game with a point to prove. The importance of the Villarreal game will come down to the results against Atalanta, but it’s likely United will need at least a point out of the game to progress in the Champions League safely. 

The final two games of November are away at Stamford Bridge to Chelsea and then back at Old Trafford against Arsenal, who are on upwards trend after a strong performance in the London Derby. Chelsea will be a massively stern test, and maybe a barometer of where the United team is at in November compared to one of the best in Europe.

Difficulty Rating 5/5

To conclude, United face a daunting run of games, however if they emerge still close to the top or even top of the Premier League at the end of it then credit will be due to Solskjaer and the team. It’s also important United qualify from their Champions League group, and if this is managed with the addition of improved league form then United will truly be back on track to have a strong season and hopefully, finally win some silverware under Solskjaer.

Written by Sam Wilson

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I support Manchester United, the greatest English football team to have ever existed. Bruno Fernandes is the latest in a long line of players with great ability to play for the club. I idolised Bryan Robson, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, and Eric Cantona growing up.