Man Utd’s critical three weeks as Solskjaer faces tough fixture pile-up

You can only hope that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been getting some rest during this international break, for his sake at least.

The Manchester United boss, like all managers of top clubs, will have been viewing the rather specific oddness that is the empty stadium Nations League with interest, particularly the matches that pitted his stars against each other.

On the one hand, the professional distraction that is 2020 international football has taken the heat off the Norwegian for a bit, with the jarring 6-1 defeat to Tottenham disappearing from mindsets, rolling news bulletins and angry airwaves with each passing game.

And there are a lot of games.

On the other though, Solskjaer will have been watching through his fingers as he hoped that his players made it through matches – and perhaps more importantly, Covid-19 tests – unscathed.

Because United, and perhaps more pertinently their boss, have got a big few weeks ahead.

Like all the English clubs involved in European competition this season, Solskjaer's side will return to action with a bang, playing seven games across three weeks starting from this weekend and encompassing matches across this continent and almost into another one.

Such a heavy schedule might not be too much of an issue for the bigger sides on paper, but the addition of travel to and from matches as well as the logistical gymnastics that go with that these days means it is no exaggeration to say that Solskjaer is about to enter the most intense period of his managerial career, and at a time when it all seems on the line.

Two defeats from United's opening three Premier League games as well as an underwhelming, and then somewhat panicky transfer window have suddenly started to see the glances turn inward, and this period seems set to be one that will determine if Solskjaer sinks or swims.

Indeed, it would be interesting to see what would be the prevailing mood if fans were currently allowed into Old Trafford after back-to-back Premier League defeats there which saw the hosts concede nine goals.

As it stands everything feels a little distant, with the comforts and frustrations of home some way off.

Solskjaer and co will be on the road this coming weekend though, taking on a Newcastle United side who won't be feeling any sense of trepidation having had their own decent start to the campaign.

St James' Park on a Saturday night under the lights feels like an evening to particularly lament the lack of fans, and while the size of the task is surely altered it still doesn't feel like a gimme for visiting a side short on confidence.

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After that comes a trip to Paris, perhaps the scene of Solskjaer's finest hour and the inspiration for a BT Sport clip that Rio Ferdinand surely regrets now.

PSG are a better side now than they were when Man Utd were "back!" though and it is hard to think of a tougher start to the Champions League for an English side.

It'll then be time for home comforts for a week though, however none of United's next three Old Trafford matches look cosy at all.

First come Chelsea, who might have been bested by them in the Premier League last season but have evolved since then, and have a recent FA Cup semi-final win to point to.

Next are RB Leipzig, last season's Champions League semi-finalists who, even sans Timo Werner, still have the ability to make United look as "average" as their on-loan left-back Angelino thinks they can often be.

Then Arsenal will arrive, with Mikel Arteta surely seeing this as his best chance yet to secure a statement away win that will underscore all of the good work that he has done since arriving. Maybe the type of win that sees the managers and their philosophies compared, and Solskjaer won't want that.

He won't have much time to think about it though, as a trip to Turkey to face Istanbul Basaksehir and their merry band of former Premier League players is next up.

The likes of Demba Ba, Nacer Chadli, Martin Skrtel and Rafael da Silva might belong to a time more associated with Solskjaer being Cardiff City manager, but they and the rest of Turkish champions' squad will be up for it during the club's first ever Champions League campaign.

Manchester United's next seven matches in all competitions

Newcastle United (a) – Premier League, Oct 17

Paris Saint-Germain (a) – Champions League, Oct 20

Chelsea (h) – Premier League, Oct 24

RB Leipzig (h) – Champions League, Oct 28

Arsenal (h) – Premier League, Nov 1

Istanbul Basaksehir (a), Champions League, Nov 4

Everton (a) – Premier League, Nov 7

Then rounding out the three weeks will be the short journey to Merseyside to take on Everton, who might not be top of the table by then but will certainly possess enough quality to really hurt a United side back from a long haul trip.

Carlo Ancelotti, like Arteta but in a different way, could well conjure up some difficult headlines for the United manager, who might then be pleased to see dawn of the November international break.

A critical three weeks then? For United's season almost certainly.

As for Solskjaer's future?

The luxury of worrying about international fortnights in 2021 might depend on them.

How many of the seven games will United win? Have your say below.

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