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ole sweat Lose in Leipzig and the knives will well and truly be out for Manchester United boss Solskjaer

Leipzig's no flight of fancy as Old Trafford chief clings to his position

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer faces a stern test when his side face Leipzig on Tuesday

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer faces a stern test when his side face Leipzig on Tuesday

Getty Images

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer faces a stern test when his side face Leipzig on Tuesday

ED Woodward might need a few Red Bulls to keep him going come early Wednesday morning.

For that may be the time when he faces the ultimate test of his tenure as the head honcho of Manchester United.

By then, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his players will be on their flight back home from Leipzig.

And if the German club - sponsored by the multi-national caffeine drink - have won, the knives will well and truly be out for the manager, who saw his side come from behind to win 3-1 at West Ham yesterday.

Those knives have been getting sharpened for months now.

What was supposed to be a breakthrough season for Solskjaer and his team has instead been a cocktail of brilliant wins and dismal defeats.

There have been times when United have been breathtaking - such as in their 5-0 defeat of RB Leipzig at home.

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Ed Woodward, CEO of Manchester United, looks on from the stands

Ed Woodward, CEO of Manchester United, looks on from the stands

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Ed Woodward, CEO of Manchester United, looks on from the stands

Winning 2-1 away to Paris Saint-Germain was a sensational death-or-glory display.

However, losing 2-1 in Istanbul to a Baseksehir side that would struggle in England's Championship was anything but that.

Getting hammered 6-1 at Old Trafford by Tottenham, and especially to Solskjaer's predecessor Jose Mourinho, was a humiliation.

Although, before even that, losing 3-1 to Crystal Palace at home could be considered more demeaning.

Yet, a week ago, there was the Edison Cavani-inspired 3-2 win at Southampton in Fergie Time, as Solskjaer's players set an all-time club record of eight successive away wins.

What team actually turns up on any given day is almost impossible to predict.

What is certain is that if United go down against the upstarts of the Bundesliga, the clamour to get rid of Solskjaer is liable to become a crescendo.

For, unquestionably, he will be seen to have blown the chance of making the Champions League round of 16, with Liverpool, Chelsea and the blue team from across the city having already done so.

The 3-1 defeat to PSG looks worse than the performance was.

That game could have swung either way.

It is the miserable display in Turkey that is the key to United's flight into danger, even if they do so still as group leaders.

Another blow for Solskjaer was not getting his paws on Erling Haaland, who should have been a United player in January, but the club managed to blow that, too.

He had 23 goals for his club, Borussia Dortmund, and country going into yesterday's visit to Eintracht Frankfurt which he missed through injury - and, as his fellow Norwegian, Solskjaer was supposed to be a stitch-on to sign the son of one of his long-time friends.

Instead, Solskjaer has been forced to rely increasingly on an elderly striker, even if, at the age of 33, Cavani, to his credit, still has quite a spring in his step.

Push now comes to shove in eastern Germany on Tuesday night, and it may well be that the Uruguayan's vast experience and scoring prowess might make the difference against a Leipzig side that drew 3-3 at Bayern Munich yesterday.

Yet, if United do not get a point, the knife will be even more at the throat of executive vice-chairman Woodward, the man who has the final say over managers, than Solskjaer himself.

So far he has been through David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Mourinho.

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Manchester United's Edinson Cavani has had an instant impact at Old Trafford

Manchester United's Edinson Cavani has had an instant impact at Old Trafford

PA

Manchester United's Edinson Cavani has had an instant impact at Old Trafford

Next in line, say those who only ever call for blood, is Mauricio Pochettino - should the current boss find his position under crushing strain with surrender in Germany.

Yet, Woodward has made a huge play in declaring that Solskjaer has his complete backing.

He has continually insisted that he believes that the former striker - known as the 'Baby-faced Assassin' from his playing days - can kill the culture of dissent and disappointment that stank out Old Trafford for years under those charged with trying to follow in the footsteps of Alex Ferguson.

And, to a certain extent, the fumigation of the Theatre of Dreams has worked.

For all that, Woodward's gamble on Solskjaer has brought some rewards - such as last season's rise to third place in the Premier League and a place among this season's European elite.

He will look down the East Lancs Road to Anfield and note that there were 30 years between top-flight titles.

And he will observe the development of Mason Greenwood, how Marcus Rashford has matured, how Bruno Fernandes looks a bargain at £42m, and how Donny van de Beek is beginning to look like he might be another one at £4m less than that figure.

The downside of Solskjaer's reign, however, is his seeming refusal to accept that Paul Pogba is a diva who only underlines the fragility and inconsistency so apparent this season.

However, defensive deficiencies remain - especially at home, when United are often like sitting ducks to the counter-attack.

Woodward will be forced to stick or twist should a place in the last 16 disappear.

While Solskjaer insists he is big enough to bear the load of being Manchester United manager, many have had doubts all along.

Those doubts will fly like darts if the worst happens in Germany.

The question will then be whether Woodward really is determined to stand by his man - or stand aside and let him be thrown to the wolves instead.

RB Leipzig v Man united, Champions League, Tues, 8.0pm, RTE2, VMS, BT Spt2

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