A comfortable win at troubled Tottenham Hotspur and then a Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired escape from defeat at the hands of Atalanta have taken some of the heat off under-pressure Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
But a more severe test of his side’s health will come this Saturday when they host Premier League champions Manchester City in the derby — a game fraught with danger for a United side that has been wildly unpredictable this season.
City suffered a surprise home defeat by Crystal Palace last weekend and they have also lost three of their last four Premier League clashes against Solskjaer’s United.
Such a poor recent record against their neighbours will not sit well with manager Pep Guardiola and there will be points to prove when the whistle blows at Old Trafford.
United were hammered 5-0 by Liverpool in their last home game — one of the worst results in their recent history and one that whipped up a media frenzy about Solskjaer’s future.
That his side recovered to calmly dispatch Tottenham a week later was admirable, although one of the keys of that victory was the return from injury of defender Raphael Varane as Solskjaer started with five at the back.
Worryingly for Solskjaer he will be without Varane for the visit of City after he suffered a hamstring injury against Atalanta and will be ruled out for up to a month.
United will have plenty of defending to do against City and will have to do it well. But that, combined with swift counter-attacks, has generally been the blueprint for their success against their local rivals since Solskjaer took the helm.
Solskjaer has won four and drawn one of his eight clashes with Guardiola.
City, for their part, will be all too aware that they cannot afford to fall too far behind Chelsea and Liverpool in the title race and after a 4-1 win against Club Brugge in midweek will head across town in confident mood.
Chelsea lead the standings by three points from Liverpool and five from third-placed City and will aim to continue the momentum they have built when they seek a fifth consecutive league win against Burnley on Saturday.
Antonio Conte’s first Premier League game in charge of Tottenham is a trip to face Everton who have lost three in a row under Rafael Benitez. Conte replaced the sacked Nuno Espirito Santo on Tuesday.
Liverpool close the weekend with a difficult trip to the London Stadium to face in-form West Ham United who have made their best start to a top flight season in more than 40 years.
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