THE next few matches should tell us much about what this season holds for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manchester United.
A haul of 14 points from the first seven Prem games — and within one win of the top — is a steady enough start on the face of it.
But do not be fooled because they have not played any of the title contenders yet.
And their two biggest rivals Manchester City and Liverpool lie in wait in a daunting run of games over the next five weeks.
Compare the fixtures Solskjaer’s men have chalked off with those who City and Chelsea have faced and you see why the jury is very much out on United.
Yet things are about to get serious for them. They also face away games at Leicester and Tottenham before the November international break.
And to complicate matters further, there is a key Champions League double-header with Atalanta, who are no mugs.
United struggled to beat the traditional big six last season, winning only twice — against City and Tottenham.
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The best thing you could say is that when United have needed a big result for their manager, they tend to find one.
And they will need one soon to get themselves going again after a hugely disappointing last couple of league matches.
Solskjaer made it clear he still has faith in his squad but says they need to prove they have what it takes to mount a serious challenge.
The Norwegian said: “You know, I believe in these players and the coaching staff. I believe we have something going.
“The proof is in the pudding. We need results. And we have to turn up.
“We can’t just say we did well against City and Tottenham last year, we need to do it during the 90 minutes, whoever plays, because that’s the challenge.
“Every game in the Premier League and the Champions League is a big game against a good team — every game at Manchester United is a potential banana skin for us. We’re expected to win every one.”
Well, they are certainly expected to beat teams like Aston Villa and Everton at home particularly with the squad that the manager now has at his disposal.
Yet they took just one point from those two matches to put a serious question mark over their title credentials.
The Stretford End will always love Solskjaer for what he did for the club as a player.
He also deserves credit for the work he has done as manager and the group of players he has put together.
It should be capable of sustaining a challenge at the top of the table as well as winning cups after four fallow seasons.
But is the club’s legendary former striker really the man to do it? The faithful are starting to have their doubts.
Just two wins from their last six in all competitions is a worrying sequence of results. Yet performances have not really warranted much more.
United have played well in patches and have enough match-winners in their ranks to get points when they perhaps do not deserve them.
Apart from the 5-1 opening-day rout of Leeds, United fans would struggle to pick out a seriously good display from their team this season.
The sight of Cristiano Ronaldo, who had been surprisingly left on the bench, storming down the tunnel at full-time told you everything about the frustration currently felt around United.
Midfielder Bruno Fernandes admitted what they have done in the opening two months of the season is not enough.
The Portuguese said: “We have to learn. We cannot do this any more. We did it so many times and we cannot slow the game down when we’re winning.
“We have to come back after the break and be ready. We should have more points, we could have more points.
“We have to look forward now to what we can do from now until the end of the season.
“We still have a lot of games to do it — we haven’t lost anything and we have to carry on fighting for everything.”
It was Fernandes who helped to get United going here as he stylishly controlled and laid the ball off for Anthony Martial to lash a deflected effort beyond Jordan Pickford two minutes before the break.
The French ace was a surprise starter with Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho left on the bench — but did himself no harm.
In fact, it was after he went off just before the hour that Everton came storming back.
Demarai Gray and Abdoulaye Doucoure forced a way through United’s defence and teed up Andros Townsend to fire a 65th-minute equaliser.
What a free transfer the former England man is turning out to be for the Toffees — that was his fifth goal in just nine appearances so far.
They could have won it too if subtitute Tom Davies had shown more confidence and gone for goal himself rather than squaring for Yerry Mina to tap home instead.
The Colombian centre-back always looked offside and so it proved when the VAR checked.
Everton would have been kicking themselves as in the end a victory would not have flattered the visitors.
Another tough day for Solskjaer, yet in the end, it could have been so much worse.
Manchester United's Horror Fixture List
Oct 16 – Leicester City (A)
Oct 20 – Atalanta (H)
Oct 24 – Liverpool (H)
Oct 30 – Tottenham (A)
Nov 2 – Atalanta (A)
Nov 6 – Manchester City (H)
Nov 20 – Watford (A)
Nov 23 – Villarreal (A)
Nov 28 – Chelsea (A)
Nov 30 – Arsenal (H)
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