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red 'n' buried Egyptian king Mo Salah may be the man to finally knock wobbling Solskjaer off his Old Trafford perch


Mo Salah celebrates with James Milner after he starred in Liverpool’s 5-0 win against Watford

Mo Salah celebrates with James Milner after he starred in Liverpool’s 5-0 win against Watford

Mo Salah celebrates with James Milner after he starred in Liverpool’s 5-0 win against Watford

Liverpool’s weekend meeting with Manchester United brings into the same Old Trafford orbit two high-profile Premier League figures trending in polar opposite directions.

The masterful Mo Salah, a footballer who has attained a state of grace in recent weeks, soaring to the highest rung of the football ladder, seizing the best player on the planet notch to which Lionel Messi had so long held the title deeds.

And the besieged Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, an increasingly lonely and forlorn figure, a wounded leader fighting a rearguard action to rescue his credibility and salvage a reputation rapidly disappearing into the Manchester United shredder.

Salah’s devastating surge of form – “he is for sure on top of the list [of the world’s best players],” to quote Jurgen Klopp in the wake of last Saturday’s masterclass at Watford – must fill the Norwegian with a grim foreboding.

United have been consistently resolute in their backing of Solskjaer, insisting time and again that the 48-year-old retains the faith of the club’s owners and board.

History reminds us that such support can quickly unspool once a season falls into the kind of dizzying tailspin to which the Solskjaer supremacy has recently plunged.

The first turbulent weeks of October have strengthened convictions that the Ole era is dangling by a thread.

A cataclysmic sequence of events has seen footage emerge of Alex Ferguson criticise a Solskjaer team selection, and Cristiano Ronaldo throw a strop at being held in reserve, before Paul Pogba ramped up the pressure on his coach by shining a pitiless light on United’s shortcomings, insisting “we need to change".


Pressure is building on Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Pressure is building on Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Pressure is building on Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Pogba’s words followed Saturday’s chaotic 4-2 loss to Leicester (many feel they might have been best addressed to self), the Manchester club’s fourth loss in seven games, one that enhanced Stretford End fears that the manager simply lacks the clarity and tactical sophistication to compete with the best of his peers.

The hysteria that accompanied Ronaldo’s second coming has quickly given way to concerns that Solskjaer, for all the residual affection afforded a club legend, is not remotely strategically equipped to go head to head with Klopp, Pep Guardiola or Thomas Tuchel.

Privately, many United season ticket holders will reluctantly admit they see their coach as a lightweight liability, a manager whose flimsy back catalogue - he could not hack it at Cardiff – is now being brutally exposed.

A constant tactic for the growing number of agnostics who prosecute such an argument is to imagine any of Europe’s super clubs – Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid or PSG – compiling a coaching dream ticket.

Guardiola and Klopp would top any such ballot; Solskjaer, unproven, evidently struggling to locate a formula or an identity that might bring the best from an expensively assembled squad of huge individual talents, would not have a prayer of making even the long list.

United’s next five games are home and away ties with Atalanta which could determine their Champions League fate, along with league games against Liverpool, Spurs and Manchester City.

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There has been huge supporter goodwill towards Solskjaer, a beloved Old Trafford figure and a palpably decent man, with a reluctance among fans to turn on the taps of rage which submerged Jose Mourinho and Louis van Gaal.

But the mood music at Old Trafford could change perceptibly over the next five days.

Wednesday's visit of Atalanta, Champions League quarter-finalists two years ago, is followed by Sunday’s arrival of the opponents against whom United have for so long measured themselves.

Ferguson's famous battle cry about knocking Liverpool off their perch feels like something from a bygone era.

Klopp’s side are undefeated in the Premier League and victory on Manchester soil would not only be hugely symbolic, but it would also send them seven points clear of their biggest rivals with less than a quarter of the season complete.

Such a scenario would leave Solskjaer, the longest serving United manager not to win a trophy since Dave Sexton, teetering on the brink.

Hardly an ideal time to come face to face with the mesmerising Salah.

The Egyptian has opened this season accompanied by a gasp-of-wonder soundtrack, jaw-dropping goals in his last two club appearances against Watford and Manchester City adding to the sense of a footballer who stands alone.

Salah has scored in each of his last eight matches, while his gorgeous assist for Sadio Mane’s opener at Vicarage Road spoke of his all-round game’s constantly expanding horizons.

Should Manchester United be the latest victim reduced to a glaze-eyed impotence by Liverpool’s tousle-haired magician it might, perhaps, be an exaggeration to say it will prove immediately terminal for Solskjaer.

But, to borrow from the legendary manager whose shoes the flailing Norwegian is merely the latest to struggle to fill, it would leave Ole wobbling in excruciating discomfort on his ever slippier perch.

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