Ole Gunnar Solskjaer needs a trophy, that much is true.
Just how soon he needs it, and which trophy he needs the most, depends on your viewpoint. Some Manchester United fans believe silverware must be forthcoming this season, or else the Norwegian should be under pressure.
Others accept a second place finish in the Premier League, and progress in the two remaining cup competitions, would be enough — even if United go trophyless. The debate about whether trophy success automatically means a manager is vindicated is a tiresome one.
But the plight of Jose Mourinho, whose Tottenham Hotspur team are in the League Cup final yet sliding rapidly down the league table, perhaps proves there is more to football management than lifting minor pots and pans, as Brian Clough once termed them.
Solskjaer is consistently hit with jibes like “no tactics”, “PE teacher” and “just vibes” with regards to his style at United.
The phrase that United coined themselves, “cultural reboot” also hasn’t helped his cause and sometimes there is the perception that Solskjaer is all about the rebuild and never about the results.
The polar opposite of how Mourinho depicts himself. And so this debate goes on and on.
Yet it is unarguable that United did not expect to be in a title challenge this season. So the fact they have drifted to a position 10 points away from in-form Man City at the Premier League’s summit is neither a surprise nor a disappointment.
United were 16 points behind City at this stage last season — and that’s when Pep Guardiola’s side were in a rut, and Liverpool were even further ahead. The Anfield club finished 33 points ahead of third-placed United; now they are nine points behind.
That is progress, no matter what the mitigations from Jurgen Klopp about Virgil van Dijk, injuries, or whatever else he can think of.
But United can forget the title. That even Solskjaer suggested — when the gap was smaller than seven points — United were not in a title race, shows the thinking at Old Trafford this season. It’s a little too soon.
Upcoming games against Chelsea in the league and Leicester in the FA Cup, therefore, need to matter more than the looming Manchester derby
Winning at Stamford Bridge next weekend could widen the gap between United and the fifth-placed Premier League side to nine points. That, like the gap between first and second, ought to be insurmountable in 12 remaining games this season. It would rubber-stamp fourth place, while United should be confident of seeing off Leicester and West Ham and finishing second.
Liverpool, Everton and the chasing pack have a sniff of fourth but should have too much to do, to catch United.
Paul Scholes believes United have more than enough about them to beat Chelsea, as they did twice in the league last season, cementing third ahead of the Blues.
Free Manchester United newsletter
Manchester United made heavy weather of their 3-1 win over Newcastle, eventually getting the job done at Old Trafford.
Marcus Rashford, Daniel James and Bruno Fernandes were on the scoresheet as United got back to winning ways in the league. They have a Europa League second leg vs Real Sociedad on Thursday.
MEN Sport will bring you all the build-up to and reaction from every United match. You can have it all delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our daily newsletter. Just put your email address in the sign-up box at the top of this article, or simply follow this link. It’s free and only takes a few seconds.
The United legend said: “You’ve got to play these teams if you’re going to be successful – and you’ve got to beat them. They have really struggled in big games.
“Chelsea away, I watched Chelsea yesterday I thought they were okay but they were a little bit toothless in the final third. Look, I think United don’t have that much to worry about with Chelsea. I think they’ll be okay there, especially away from home their record is brilliant.”
To win that game and to beat Leicester in an FA Cup quarter-final would cement another top four finish and semi-final appearance for Solskjaer, which has to be the minimum requirement for a United boss.
After that, many will expect Solskjaer to win either the domestic cup, or the Europa League, even if the latter is still a long shot purely because it requires United to win another seven games (excluding the second leg against Real Sociedad).
It speaks volumes about the progress United have made in the past year that the bar has been raised higher for Solskjaer. Third and a semi-final was good last season, it will only just be acceptable this term.
He’s two games away from hitting his target. Anything else is a bonus.