Just when Manchester United appeared to be building momentum after a mediocre start to the domestic season, a woeful exit from the Champions League has left manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer facing flak once again. Which means the stakes have been raised even beyond usual levels for Saturday’s home derby against Manchester City.
Four successive league wins have pushed United from the lower depths of the table into sixth place, one spot above Pep Guardiola’s City, who are slowly beginning to tick.
Yet Tuesday’s 3-2 capitulation in Leipzig, when a draw would have sent them into the Champions League last 16, has tarnished United’s impressive turnaround and the rumour mill about who is being lined up to replace Solskjaer has re-started.
United are looking to win three successive Premier League games against their neighbours for the first time since 2010 and three points would put them into the top four, ahead of Sunday’s games, smoothing the waters somewhat for Solskjaer.
The problem is their home form is lamentable this season.
They have collected four points from five league games at Old Trafford and City are capable of inflicting more pain.
Guardiola’s side will arrive on the back of four wins from their last five games in all competitions since a 2-0 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur — a spell in which they have not conceded.
While the defence has looked rock solid, Sergio Aguero’s goal-scoring return from injury in the 3-0 win over Marseille on Wednesday, has given Guardiola plenty of firepower to play with.
Aguero is unlikely to start against United but his return augurs well for City’s prospects of joining the title race.
“The important thing is he made a good three or four training sessions and the reaction after the training session was good. He played 25 minutes and scored a goal and was active. Step by step,” Guardiola said.
Chelsea can steal a march on the rest of the top four when they take on Everton in Saturday’s late game.
Victory would move Frank Lampard’s side to the top of the table, above champions Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur who share the lead with 24 points from 11 games.
Liverpool face struggling Fulham on Sunday while Tottenham, leaders on goal difference, are at Crystal Palace.
Fourth-placed Leicester City are also on duty on Sunday as they welcome Brighton and Hove Albion.
The pressure will be on Arsenal as they take on third-from-bottom Burnley at the Emirates having lost three successive home league games, sinking to 15th place in the table.
Arsenal have won just four of their opening 11 games and much of the problem has been a meagre goal haul of 10. “It’s unsustainable. It doesn’t matter what we do in other departments of the pitch, if we don’t score goals we can’t do nothing,” manager Mikel Arteta said.