After a positive start to the season, three defeats in four games have dampened optimism and piled the pressure on Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
The Reds latest loss, a 1-0 home defeat to Aston Villa, saw Solskjaer’s side comprehensively out-thought, outfought, and outplayed by Dean Smith’s impressive visitors.
Immediately after the game, the United manager followed up his recent criticisms about refereeing decisions to question the validity of the winning goal.
And the Norwegian’s habit of deflecting the thorny issue of his side’s displays to instead talk about officials has been strongly criticised by The Telegraph’s James Ducker.
Ducker writes: “Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been getting plenty (of excuses) in of late. Yet no number of diversion tactics were going to mask that…Manchester United were witless and deservedly beaten…
“Set against the rich cohesion of Dean Smith’s 3-5-2, this was another of those games that left you wondering what Solskjaer’s vision for this scratchy, disjointed United is meant to be.”
The United correspondent echoes fan concerns by observing the stark contrast between the well-drilled Villa and the Reds’ disconnected group of individuals.
“It is close to three years now since he took charge and the fault lines really feel embossed when so many individual talents fall flat and there is no single moment of brilliance to puncture those periods of mediocrity.”
The home side’s tactics come in for similar scrutiny, with Ducker noting: “United had one tactic – a ball in behind for their best player on the day, Mason Greenwood but, beyond that there was little to no variation…”
And Solskjaer’s contentious opinion about the validity of the late winner is described simply as “more excuses”.
One thing is for sure, with a huge game against recent nemesis Villareal on the horizon, United’s coach desperately needs a convincing victory to dispel the current gloom.
Fans are keen to see a marked improvement from the laborious displays of late and a rematch against their Europa League conquerors represents the perfect chance to gauge what, if any progress, has been made since May.