For Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the past week has been a case of one step forward, two steps back.
Following the thrill of watching his Manchester United side tear through RB Leipzig during a 5-0 win, the Norwegian has overseen dismal defeats by Arsenal and Istanbul Basaksehir in the space of four days, results which have only increased the pressure on him given the news Mauricio Pochettino is eyeing a return to management.
With three Premier League defeats already this season, Solskjaer approaches Saturday’s trip to Everton knowing that a convincing performance and positive result are needed if United are to remain in touch with the teams above them.
Defeat at Goodison Park would leave the Reds languishing near the relegation zone with seven points from as many games.
On the back of Wednesday’s disappointment in Turkey and with such a key fixture on the horizon, we look at how Solskjaer can fix five of his key issues at Old Trafford.
Picking a settled XI
Nearly two years into his United reign, Solskjaer still does not seem convinced on his first-choice starting XI.
While Anthony Martial’s suspension and squad rotation has factored into his thinking during the opening six weeks of the campaign, Solskjaer is yet to name the same line-up in successive matches this term.
Solskjaer has been largely justified in his decision to rotate for Unied’s European adventures with victories against Paris Saint-Germain and RB Leipzig coming on the back of changes from the league encounters with Newcastle United and Chelsea respectively.
However, the 47-year-old - who was often rotated by Sir Alex Ferguson during his time at Old Trafford - will know that continual alterations to his XI will do little to help his side.
There is a fine line between squad rotation and disruption and treading that line carefully may prove vital to Solskjaer’s chances of remaining in charge.
Resolve Pogba's form
No player responded as positively to Solskjaer’s arrival in December 2018 as Paul Pogba.
His turbulent relationship with Jose Mourinho at an end, the Frenchman showcased his best form during United’s first run of games under Solskjaer.
However, a combination of injuries and loss of form mean Pogba is no longer a guaranteed starter.
The 27-year-old made positive impacts from the bench against Newcastle and PSG, but has been wholly ineffective in his last two appearances.
Kept quiet by Arsenal on Sunday, Pogba failed to make an impact when summoned from the bench against Basaksehir, misplacing seven passes (per Opta ) despite only being on the pitch for half an hour.
There remains uncertainty over Pogba’s best position. Clearly wasted in a holding role, Solskjaer must figure out a way in which to breathe new life into United’s record signing in a more advanced position.
Some feel as though Pogba would be best suited on the left of a three in midfield, but with Solskjaer not having opted for a 4-3-3 this season, the former Juventus star’s reintegration may require some personnel shuffling on his manager’s part.
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Nail down CB partnership
United have conceded 16 goals in nine league and European outings already this season, which is simply far too many for a side of their ambitions.
Of course, having failed to strengthen at centre-back over the summer, Solskjaer has been tasked with establishing a first-choice defensive partnership.
At the start of the season, that looked to be Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof, only for a shaky display from both against Crystal Palace to raise questions over their form.
Eric Bailly replaced Lindelof for the visit of Tottenham Hotspur but failed to prove his worth during a catastrophic 6-1 defeat.
And Axel Tuanzebe stood up well to Kylian Mbappe and Neymar in the win over PSG only to be hooked at half-time in his next start, against Basaksehir.
For now, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw look to be Solskjaer’s preferred options at full-back. It’s the heart of defence that needs fixing if United are to recapture the post-lockdown form that helped them clinch third place in the league ahead of Chelsea.
Finding a place for new signings
United failed to issue a strong statement of intent during the summer transfer window as they missed out on top target Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund.
And while they still managed to add Donny van de Beek, Edinson Cavani, Alex Telles, and Facundo Pellistri - with Amad Diallo set to join in January - the recent recruits have had little impact so far.
Van de Beek, who scored on his debut against Palace, has offered flashes of promise during his limited time on the pitch with Solskjaer yet to start the Dutchman in the league.
Cavani, who has the firepower to become a regular fixture in the United attack, is also waiting on his first start while Telles’ progress has been interrupted by a positive Covid-19 test following a promising debut against PSG.
Pellistri is also yet to feature with Solskjaer keen to give the Uruguayan teenager time with United’s under-23s before integrating him into the first team.
Solskjaer now faces a decision over whether or not to start Van de Beek and Cavani against Everton. With Martial having served his domestic suspension, the Frenchman will be expected to line out at Goodison Park after scoring against Leipzig and Basaksehir.
However, late cameos from the bench will do little to help Cavani settle while Solskjaer must consider handing Van de Beek a full league debut given the ease with which Arsenal handled Pogba, Fred and Scott McTominay at Old Trafford last week.
Stick with a preferred system
Another issue related to United’s inconsistency of late is Solskjaer’s tactical tinkering.
With the midfield diamond having proved effective in breaking down Leipzig, the United boss stuck with the same system for Arsenal’s visit to Old Trafford, only for the Gunners to dominate.
Solskjaer reverted to his usual 4-2-3-1 for Basaksehir only for United to look horribly exposed at the back.
He has also experimented with a three-man defence this season, which worked against PSG.
While tactical versatility is beneficial, there is a sense that Solskjaer is too reactionary with his systems and team selections.
United may continue with a 4-2-3-1 against Everton, but in order for that system to bear fruit, Solskjaer must persist with it and allow the players to become acquainted with the specific rigours of their roles.
Regardless of the formation, Everton is a must-win game for United. Another defeat and Solskjaer may not be around long enough to solve the issues that have dominated his reign in recent weeks.