Man Utd manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer bought himself a modicum of breathing room when his team beat Brighton 3-1 before the international break. It saw them climb up to seventh in the table and suggested that green shoots of recovery are starting to show through.
This remains the Red Devils’ worse start to a Premier League season, but their form has improved somewhat in recent weeks and they are also aided by the failings of key rivals.
Not long ago Solskjaer was the favourite in Heritage Sports to be the next Premier League manager to leave his job. Now there are seven managers ahead of him in this market.
Southampton supremo Ralph Hassenhuttl is the favourite following his team’s 9-0 defeat to Leicester, although Arsenal boss Unai Emery is not far behind. The Gunners have taken just two points from their last four matches and “Emery Out” is the popular new mantra among their fans.
Manuel Pellegrini has leapfrogged Marco Silva after his West Ham team embarked on a six-game winless streak and plummeted down to 16th in the table. Silva’s Everton climbed to the giddy heights of 15th with a 2-1 win away at Southampton last time out, but he remains under pressure. Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino is next in the betting and some say he could be sacked if Spurs lose away at West Ham in their next game. The Champions League finalists have won just three of 12 matches so far this season.
Daniel Farke, who is in charge of bottom club Norwich, is next in this market, followed by Quique Sanchez Flores of Watford. The Hornets have already sacked Javi Gracia this season, and replacement Flores has not exactly set the world alight since his return to Vicarage Road. However, he also bought himself some breathing space after guiding Watford to their first win of the season last time out.
Only then do you come to Solskjaer, who is now as long as 25/1 with some bookies to be the next manager to leave his post? It follows a relatively strong run of form. Man Utd lost away at Newcastle before the last international break, and Solskjaer looked to be in serious trouble.
They were expected to be thrashed by Liverpool on their first game back, but they actually battled to a strong 1-1 draw. They remain the only team to take points off Liverpool in 12 games so far this season.
That emboldened Man Utd, who went on to beat Partizan Belgrade in the Europa League, Norwich in the Premier League and Chelsea in the EFL Cup, before losing to Bournemouth in the league.
Yet they bounced back from that defeat with a 3-0 win over Partizan and then beat Brighton 3-1, meaning they have now won five of their last six games. The opposition has been poor to middling – Chelsea rested many stars for that cup game – but it has given everyone a timely confidence boost.
The return of Anthony Martial has significantly reduced the pressure on Marcus Rashford upfront, and Man Utd now look a lot more dangerous going forward. They still miss the injured Paul Pogba in midfield, but the defence is starting to look a bit tighter. United are miles off league leaders Liverpool, but they may have a slight chance of catching up with the teams currently residing in the top four.
Leicester and Chelsea are now 10 points ahead of Solskjaer’s men, while Man City are nine points ahead. Man Utd will have to hope that the form of either Leicester or Chelsea, or both, tails off if they are to break into the top four once again.
Arsenal and Spurs are floundering, but Leicester and Chelsea have defied expectations thus far and they are both surging with momentum.
The Red Devils now face a crucial run of matches, and it could define their season. Their next game sees them take on newly promoted Sheff Utd, who are unbeaten in five matches and up to fifth in the table.
Victory would see Man Utd leapfrog the Blades, but their away form is poor and they need a massive improvement if they are to compete with an organised, energised Sheff Utd team. Then they face Aston Villa, Spurs, Man City and Everton before Christmas.
If they suffer another meltdown it could be the end of the road for Solskjaer, but a decent run of form would set the team on the path for a strong second half of the season and ensure the odds on him keeping his job continue to lengthen.