Everton head a crucial week for United's top-four hopes

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (with Lionel Messi after bowing out to Barcelona 4-0 on aggregate in the Champions League quarter-finals) has "five games to see if we can finish it off". PHOTO: REUTERS
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (with Lionel Messi after bowing out to Barcelona 4-0 on aggregate in the Champions League quarter-finals) has "five games to see if we can finish it off". PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has five Premier League games left in the season to prove conclusively the club's hierarchy was not hasty in making him Jose Mourinho's permanent successor last month.

After a spectacular start as caretaker manager, during which he won his first eight games and lost just one of his opening 17 matches in charge, United have since suffered a precipitous drop in form.

Five defeats have come in their last seven games, a run which has seen them exit the FA Cup and Champions League, leaving a top-four finish in serious doubt.

They now face a pivotal week, starting with a trip to Everton today before hosting Manchester City (Wednesday), who are locked in a title tussle with Liverpool, and top-four rivals Chelsea (Sunday).

Solskjaer insisted he could not have done a better job given their league position when he took over on Dec 19, when they were 11 points off the top four, but now have "five games to see if we can finish it off".

Although their season ends with a visit to already relegated Huddersfield and a home game against Cardiff, whose relegation fate might also be sealed by then, their next three games are likely to determine whether the club will cement one of the two Champions League places they are competing for with the Blues, Arsenal and Tottenham.

But Solskjaer does not believe his team have any added advantage over the three London clubs who are still in Europe. Spurs will face Ajax in the Champions League semi-final and both Arsenal and Chelsea are also in the last four of the Europa League.

The Norwegian said: "It will give them (United's rivals) a boost playing those games, that's what you want as a player.

"These three games are our short-term focus and we shouldn't think about anything other than having a great week ahead of us."

Denying that his elevation has had a negative effect on his players' performances, Solskjaer insisted it was down to "margins".

However, his critics are beginning to sharpen their knives, with pundit Jermaine Jenas telling BBC Sport his appointment as United's full-time manager was "an emotional decision" and not a "thought-out logical decision for the long term".

He added: "I don't think they needed to try and find someone who can get close to what (former manager Alex) Ferguson has done, they needed to find (a new identity). I don't think they know what they're doing."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

EVERTON V MAN UNITED

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 21, 2019, with the headline 'Everton head a crucial week for United's top-four hopes'. Print Edition | Subscribe