Manchester United’s next six games could prove how good Ole Gunnar Solskjaer really is
Not only is the Norwegian picking up victories but he has also changed the mood of the whole club and has rejuvenated the form of key players such as Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba.
It’s been a remarkable change of fortunes for United who were closer in points to the relegation zone than to league leaders Liverpool when Jose Mourinho was sacked in December.
United are still sixth in the league but are now only three points off the top four, with Champions League qualification now a real possibility – something that seemed unlikely just a month ago.
If United are to continue their revival then the next six games will be vital as the Reds have massive matches in three competitions – a real test just how good of a manager Solskjaer is.
Arsenal – Away – FA Cup 4th Round – Fri 25/1 – 7:55pm
United advanced after a comfortable 2-0 victory over Championship side Reading but will face much harder opposition in Unai Emery‘s side.
Arsenal started life without Arsene Wenger in great form, going unbeaten for 22 games in all competitions but have started to revert back type recently after being battered 5-1 by Liverpool and losing 1-0 to West Ham.
Alexandre Lacazette scored an excellent goal to open the scoring and his partnership with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang could cause problems for United. Despite the improvements at the other end of the pitch under Solskjaer, United remain suspect defensively and the strike duo could expose that.
Arsenal will be without Hector Bellerin, who left the pitch on a stretcher against Chelsea after injuring his knee. Rob Holding and former Old Trafford favourite Danny Welbeck remain long-term absentees and, another former Red, Henrikh Mkhitaryan is in a race to be fit for the encounter.
With the FA Cup being both sides’ most realistic possibility of a trophy this season this should be a fiercely contested affair.
Burnley – Home – Premier League – Tue, 29/1 – 8pm
United will be back in Premier League action the following Tuesday against relegation strugglers Burnley.
The Clarets’ team may be rested for the clash if they rotate players in their own FA Cup tie against Manchester City but with a relegation six-pointer against Southampton the following Saturday it’s difficult to see Burnley prioritising the United clash.
Sean Dyche’s side are currently level on points with Southampton which makes their meeting a massive game at the bottom of the table.
Burnley have an awful record against the top six sides this season having not won any and conceding 18 goals in the process. They’re not the resolute defensive unit they were last season and United’s newly reborn attack should find plenty of joy against them.
Leicester City – Away – Premier League – Sun, 3/2 – 2:05pm
That’s because since those two big wins Leicester have gone on to lose games against Cardiff City, Southampton and Wolves. They’re also awful defensively and tend to play a no-thrills style of football.
Yet whenever Puel has faced mounting criticism he always answers with a shock win and United should be wary of that.
Leicester have a lot of attacking talent with the likes of Jamie Vardy, James Maddison and youngster Harvey Barnes who has already made an impact after returning from his loan spell at West Brom.
However, by continuing to push their full-back forward, Leicester often leave massive gaps at the back which the likes of Martial and Rashford could exploit with glee.
Puel will be without Daniel Amartey and former United target Harry Maguire, who picked up an injury against Wolves.
With both sides having less than solid defences, this could be a high-scoring match that United need to be careful they don’t lose.
Fulham – Away – Premier League – Sat, 9/2 – 12:30pm
The week after United will hope they have a much kinder fixture against the struggling Fulham.
The Cottagers sit second-bottom, seven points from safety, and look destined for relegation after suffering two devastating defeats in a row. They lost to Burnley due to scoring two own-goals and fell to a last-second Harry Winks winner against Tottenham.
Claudio Ranieri has improved Fulham somewhat, especially defensively, and they seemed buoyed against Spurs by the arrival of former Liverpool winger Ryan Babel but it’s probably too little to late.
Fulham will be without centre-back Alfie Mawson as he’s out with a knee injury.
PSG – Home – Champions League Last 16 First Leg – Tue, 12/2 – 8pm
The Champions League returns in mid-February and United face a massive task in qualifying for the next round, in the form of Paris Saint Germain.
The French Champions are already 13 points clear in Ligue 1, with two games in hand, and will be focusing heavily on finally capturing the Champions League trophy.
PSG have obvious attacking might with Neymar, Edinson Cavani and World Cup star Kylian Mbape, which would frighten any defence, but they have a history of chocking in the Champions League knockout stages.
At the same stage last year they were battered 5-2 on aggregate by eventual champions Real Madrid, in 2017 they famously surrendered a 4-1 lead and were eliminated against Barcelona and in 2015 they lost to Barca again, this time 5-1 over two legs.
PSG are also light in midfield areas even with a fully available squad but Thomas Tuchel has frozen out Adrien Rabiot, Lassana Diarra is injured and Marco Verratti is a doubt after twisting his ankle in the 9-0 win against Guingamp. It’s got to the extent that centre-back Marquinhos has often had to fill in there.
It certainly seems like a daunting task for United, but with their new found attacking verve there’s no reason why they should be afraid of PSG.
Liverpool – Home – Premier League – Sun, 24/2 – 2:05pm
The big games don’t stop coming and after facing PSG the next game will be Liverpool.
Defeat to Liverpool in December is what spelled the end of Mourinho‘s time as manager at Old Trafford and the reverse fixture will be a good benchmark to see just how far United have come under Solskjaer.
Losing 3-1 flattered United as Liverpool dominated the game, having 36 shots compared to United’s six, only two of which were on target.
Now Solskjaer is taking the game to teams and has United playing a much more attacking brand of football, so the game should be at least a bit more even this time around.
The attacking trio of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, not to mention Xherdan Shaqiri, will no doubt once again be difficult to contain but Liverpool do have a mounting injury list.
Trent Alexander-Arnold, Georginio Wijnaldum and Dejan Lovren are all currently sidelined alongside more long-term absentees Joe Gomez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The growing list of casualties will test Liverpool as the title chase hots up.
With the prospect of derailing bitter rival Liverpool’s title hopes, United will no doubt be well up for this.