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united blow Pressure mounts on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United as Harry Maguire is ruled out for ‘a few weeks’


Manchester United's Harry Maguire leaves the pitch after suffering an injury against Aston Villa. Photo: PA Wire

Manchester United's Harry Maguire leaves the pitch after suffering an injury against Aston Villa. Photo: PA Wire

Manchester United's Harry Maguire leaves the pitch after suffering an injury against Aston Villa. Photo: PA Wire

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's immediate concern is avoiding disaster in the Champions League, but he concedes he is under pressure to deliver a trophy at Manchester United because of the backing he received in the transfer market.

Solskjaer’s former United team-mate Gary Neville has highlighted the expectations on the manager following Cristiano Ronaldo’s arrival and investment in Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane, whose importance has increased after Harry Maguire’s calf injury ruled him out for a “few weeks”.

United lost to Young Boys in their first European group game and defeat by Villarreal at Old Trafford would make it even harder to claim the silverware Solskjaer accepts he must win after three years in the job.

“Gary’s always said a lot, when I was sat next to him as well in the dressing room,” Solskjaer said. “If he says we need to win a trophy this season or next because of the backing, I have to say yes, I have been backed, which says to me we’re sticking to that plan.

“You have to embrace that pressure. But we’re in a results business. We’re here to win, we’re here to get up there and clearly we’ve improved and expectations have improved, with the signings and better performances. I’m here to win.”

Villarreal will provide a reminder that Solskjaer is yet to break his trophy duck at United, having defeated them in the Europa League final on penalties four months ago in Gdansk. Sancho and Varane were added in the summer at a cost of £107 million (€123million), but it is the return of Ronaldo that has raised hopes of a first trophy since 2017.

Despite Ronaldo’s arrival there have been three defeats in four games heading into the clash against Unai Emery’s side.

“If you end up with zero or one point after two games, you need to win the last four probably,” Solskjaer said. “You need 10 or maybe 12 points to get through most likely and we lost three points last time.”

Maguire’s injury is a huge blow and looks set to rule him out of England’s World Cup qualifiers against Andorra and Hungary, when Gareth Southgate’s team can take another step towards Qatar. He was taken off in the defeat by Aston Villa on Saturday and is on the sidelines with the suspended Aaron Wan-Bissaka. Luke Shaw is also a doubt after illness and missing training.

Varane is now the cornerstone of United’s defence, against a team who have been draw specialists this season – all their matches have ended level apart from a win against Elche. The Frenchman played against Villarreal in his final match for Real Madrid before heading to United, and he says the level of pressure is the same at each club.

“It is always hard to make comparisons, but these are two big clubs always wanting a lot from their players and there are a lot of demands, but the hopes and expectations are very similar,” Varane said.

United suffered defeat to West Ham last week in the Carabao Cup before the weekend loss against Aston Villa, which was bizarrely explained by attacking too quickly.

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“Maybe we did it too fast, as if you look at the stats, 45 minutes effective playing time is probably one of the lowest I’ve seen, normally you’re up to 55 minutes or 60 when the ball is in play,” said Solskjaer.

“That’s maybe because we finished the attacks too quickly and the same with Villa, they did.”

Emery is relishing another high-pressure clash against United after denying them a trophy last season.

“In sport, I think revenge is very healthy,” he said. “They want to win, they lost against Young Boys, they play at home with their fans. We have our own personality, we have to play our match.”

Manchester United v Villarreal,
Live, Virgin Media 2/BT Sport 3, 8.0

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