Manchester United's top four hopes thrown into doubt following Everton humiliation

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Merseyside Misery

Sunday was a big day for Manchester United as they attempted to bounce back from the 3-0 humbling they received at the hands of Barcelona on Tuesday night. The Catalans outclassed the Red Devils in every department to ensure that they exited the Champions League at the quarter-final stage without a whimper, going down 4-0 on aggregate.

Worryingly for new boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, that loss ensured that United had been beaten in 5 of their last 7 matches in all competitions heading into Sunday's encounter with Marco Silva's in-form Everton. It looked like a potential banana skin on paper but it was a game that they had to win in order to ramp up the pressure on those above them in the race for a top four finish - but what followed was a complete abomination.

Solskjaer's men never got going on Merseyside and delivered one of the most abject performances we've ever seen from a Manchester United side. They were thrashed 4-0 by the Toffees and quite frankly it could've been more, such was the extent of the Red Devils' shocking defending.

It was an afternoon that everyone involved with the club will want to forget ASAP and it ended with Solskjaer having to apologise to the travelling supporters, who would've been furious with what they saw. With Arsenal and Tottenham both dropping points over the weekend they missed a massive opportunity to steal a march on their rivals and put their destiny in their own hands.

Instead they now have a massive Manchester derby on the horizon which if they lose, could all but end of their hopes of Champions League football for next season along with allowing City to potentially get one hand on the title. They also have Chelsea to come on Sunday, so this week is about as big as it gets for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his misfiring side can't afford any more slip-ups.

Season defining week for Ole

It's very much been a season of transition for Manchester United and their supporters will be praying that it ends with them finishing inside the top four - which would've been the minimum aim coming into the campaign. First under Jose Mourinho and now Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the Red Devils have shown flashes of what they're capable of but a lack of consistency leaves them a massive 24 points behind leaders Liverpool.

Such has been their regression, they have 10 points fewer at this stage of the season than they did twelve months ago when they went onto finish runners-up behind Manchester City. Second spot is well out of reach this time around, but with 2 points separating themselves and the top four, Champions League football is certainly a possibility.

But if they're to do it you really feel that they need to get something from their next two games, which despite being at home are very tough on paper. First up are title chasing Manchester City on Wednesday night in what looks like a mouthwatering clash, followed up by the visit of Chelsea on Sunday. Wins in both of them would put them in a strong position with games against Huddersfield and Cardiff to round off the season, so the pressure to deliver is really on.

When Ole Gunnar Solskjaer replaced Jose Mourinho as manager back in December it looked like the top four was way out of reach, but the Norwegian deserves an awful lot of credit for turning things around and giving them a fighting chance. The instant impact he made on his return to the club shattered all sorts of records, winning 14 of his opening 17 matches at the wheel.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had to apologise to the fans after the full-time whistle at Goodison

But what's followed that tremendous run has been incredibly worrying, with the players replicating the performances that littered the back-end of the Jose Mourinho era. Sunday's gutless display at Everton meant that United had now lost 6 of their last 8 games but it was the manner of the result at Goodison that really left a bitter taste in the mouth.

Not one player could walk away with any credit after that performance. Quality was sparse but the lack of desire, determination and work rate was the most damaging of all. Fans can accept defeats but the minimum they demand is 100% from each and every player but in reality none of them were willing to fight for the shirt, something that hasn't really happened at Old Trafford since the days of the great Sir Alex Ferguson.

This isn't a new problem for Manchester United fans to contend with but it is for their manager. Solskjaer made an instant impact upon his arrival and left the board with no choice but to award him with the job on a full-time basis. But now the dust has settled was it the right choice? Or does the managerial merry-go-round at OT prove that the players are indeed to blame? One thing for sure is that the club is a mess from top to bottom and Ole needs all the support he can get them back up that table.

Speaking to Sky Sports following that display yesterday, Man Utd legend Gary Neville hit the nail right on the head with his analysis:

Summer overhaul required?

Throwing around huge sums of money is what has got Manchester United into this mess with their current squad and many are expecting them to do something similar this year. Talking to the media after the Everton drubbing Solksjaer made it clear that players who weren't willing to fight for the shirt would have to move on.

"If you want to play at this club it has to mean more. I want my team to be the hardest working team in this league. I'm going to be successful here and there are players here that won't be part of that successful team."

If words like that don't work as a warning/motivation for the Manchester United players then clearly nothing is going to. Solskjaer is a club legend and has the backing of everyone at Old Trafford at the moment, so it's going to be very interesting to see who makes the cut at the start of next season. The Red Devils have plenty of money in the bank to spend but it's about acquiring the right talent, not going for big names as they have done in previous seasons.

David De Gea
Even David De Gea has looked a shadow of his imperious best at times this season

Radamel Falcao, Angel Di Maria and Alexis Sanchez are just some of the marquee signings that have flopped in the post-Sir Alex era and the club simply can't afford to keep making these expensive mistakes. They're a million miles behind Manchester City and Liverpool at the moment which must hurt the fans & it's going to be some time before they compete regularly at the summit of the division again.

This season has seen them concede a massive 48 goals, a record in the Premier League era and it doesn't come as too much of a surprise when you see their underwhelming backline. Barring Luke Shaw who has delivered some good performances, the likes of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Ashley Young have been well below par - not good enough for a side wanting to compete at the highest level.

Mourinho made it clear last summer that the club needed to shell out on a new backline and now at the back-end of the campaign, it appears that the 56 year-old was correct. United have proven that they can score goals but even with one of the best goalkeepers in the world (who's also struggled this year) they can't keep the opposition out.

Solskjaer has so much work to do this summer and you really feel that it's a pivotal one in the clubs recent history, especially if they fail to qualify for the Champions League.


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