Solskjaer, Pochettino among Premier League managers feeling most pressure
Just six months ago, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was handed a three-year contract as Manchester United manager. Three months later, Mauricio Pochettino was leading Tottenham out in Madrid for the club's first-ever appearance in a Champions League final.
Yet as the dust settled on a weekend that saw Javi Gracia become the first managerial casualty of the season in the Premier League, with the Spaniard sacked by Watford after one draw and three defeats in their opening four league games, Solskjaer and Pochettino found themselves as joint-favourites with the bookmakers to become the next manager to leave their job this season.
Solskjaer and Pochettino share the dubious distinction with Steve Bruce, who has endured a difficult start to his reign in charge of Newcastle, but it has been longer than anyone cares to remember since any Newcastle manager was able to work without some kind of uncertainty hovering over his job security. Bruce walked into the job at St James' Park knowing exactly what to expect, especially having previously managed bitter north-east rivals Sunderland, so the 58-year-old was always going to have to start well to silence his critics. His team didn't start well, but four points from Newcastle's last two games suggests that the bookmakers might soon start to lengthen the odds on Bruce joining Gracia on the managerial scrap heap.
Pochettino and Solskjaer now need a similarly positive reaction from their players after the international break in order to banish the storm clouds that are beginning to loom large over them. Results will ultimately dictate the fate of both men, as is the case with any manager, but while the circumstances surrounding Pochettino and Solskjaer's situations are different, they each have to shoulder a decent portion of the blame for the pressure they are now beginning to feel.
The doubts over Pochettino's future at Spurs are largely of his own making, with the Argentine speaking on numerous occasions over recent months about how even he doesn't know how long he will stay at the club or if, indeed, he wants to. In Singapore, during the club's preseason tour, Pochettino even went so far as to admit that he would have considered leaving his job had Spurs beaten Liverpool in the Champions League final last season.
Pochettino has helped Spurs navigate themselves up football's version of Everest during his five years in charge, transforming the club from perennial underachievers to Champions League regulars and North London's top club. Winning the Champions League would have been like reaching the summit, so perhaps he was, or is, ready for a new challenge. But by speaking so openly about potentially coming to the end of the road at Spurs, Pochettino has created uncertainty and given the likes of Christian Eriksen justification for rejecting a new contract at the club in order to pursue a new challenge of his own somewhere else. There are similar doubts over the futures of Jan Vertonghen, Danny Rose and Toby Alderweireld and, all of a sudden, Spurs look like a team on the verge of being broken up and the sense of everyone looking out for themselves is inescapable.
They sit in ninth position, with just one win from four so far in the league, and they went into the international break having thrown away a 2-0 lead at Arsenal to draw 2-2 against their biggest rivals. Pochettino went into that game denying rumours that he was preparing to quit, so the air of uncertainty is understandable and it is reaching the stage where it would be no surprise if the 47-year-old called time on his spell at Tottenham.
It is a different scenario with Solskjaer, who retains the backing of the United supporters and has yet to be subjected to suggestions that the club's owners, the Glazer family, are growing restless with recent results. But those results are why the bookmakers are being less than generous with their odds on Solskjaer losing his job.
United have made their worst start to a season since 1992-93, winning just once in four games, and they have offloaded several experienced players since the closure of the Premier League transfer window without replacing them. The optimism which flowed following the Norwegian's appointment as caretaker manager last December in the wake of Jose Mourinho's sacking has long since evaporated, largely because results have been so bad. United have not won away from Old Trafford in any competition since the remarkable 3-1 Champions League victory at Paris Saint-Germain on March 6, and they have kept just one clean sheet since the 0-0 draw with Liverpool in mid-February. Under Solskjaer, United have won just three of their last 16 games in all competitions, losing nine of them.
Solskjaer has embarked on a squad rebuilding process that has left United with just three forwards -- one of them the 17-year-old Mason Greenwood -- and no new midfielders, so he must now somehow find a way to keep his wafer-thin squad in contention in all competitions until the chance arrives to sign reinforcements in January. But the big question is whether the former United striker will survive long enough.
Solskjaer and Pochettino were seemingly untouchable in their current positions just six months ago, but football can change quickly. Just ask Javi Gracia. In May, he was being shortlisted as a potential new manager by Chelsea having guided Watford to their first FA Cup final since 1984. Now, he is out of work. That's the nature of the game for football managers, so it would be foolish to think there is no cause for concern for Pochettino and Solskjaer.