Manchester United could be without their captain Harry Maguire for several weeks as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitted failure to beat Villarreal on Wednesday could leave Manchester United in the last-chance saloon in the Champions League.
Solskjaer could be without three-quarters of his preferred defence, with Aaron Wan-Bissaka suspended and Luke Shaw facing a fitness test after missing training on Tuesday, as he accepted United need victory if they are to have any margin for error left in the premier continental competition.
And while Shaw’s injury is not as serious, Maguire, who also came off in Saturday’s home defeat to Old Trafford, could be sidelined for a potentially defining and difficult period, with United facing Everton, Leicester, Atalanta (twice), Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester City before the November international break.
“It doesn’t look good,” Solskjaer said. “It's his calf, that might take a few weeks. Let's see how quickly he recovers. I’ll give Luke a chance to be involved but he didn’t train with the team.”
Victor Lindelof is likely to replace Maguire, with Diogo Dalot set to stand in for Wan-Bissaka, who was sent off in the defeat to Young Boys of Bern, and Alex Telles the probable deputy for Shaw if he is not available, though Solskjaer suggested he may alter the formation to use a back five. “The more injuries you get you might need to do tactical changes,” he added.
United have never beaten Villarreal, with four 0-0 draws under Alex Ferguson followed by a 1-1 in May’s Europa League final, which the Spanish side won 11-10 on penalties after David de Gea missed the decisive spot kick.
And Solskjaer believes that unless United end their wait for a victory they may need to beat Atalanta home and away, plus Villarreal in Spain and Young Boys at Old Trafford.
“It is a group stage, there are only six games and you need 10 or maybe 12 points to go through,” he said. “We lost three points last time. If you end up with zero or one point after two games you need to win the last four games probably. It is not a must-win game but an important one.”
Solskjaer conceded United found it difficult to create chances against Villarreal in May but takes solace from Cristiano Ronaldo’s ability to find their net. The Portuguese played in all four stalemates between the clubs in his first spell at Old Trafford but struck 13 times in 15 La Liga games for Real Madrid.
“He enjoys playing against them,” the Norwegian said. “He has that record. You can almost say when he starts it is one guaranteed goal.”
United have lost three of their last four games in all competitions but Solskjaer insisted he is not feeling the strain. “Pressure is a privilege,” he added. “To work in this environment, you have to embrace the pressure. We are in a results business, we are here to win.”
He has accepted he needs to secure silverware, especially after this summer’s heavy investment in Jadon Sancho, Raphael Varane and Ronaldo. Former United captain Gary Neville has made that point and Solskjaer responded: “If he said we need to win a trophy this season or next because of the backing, I've got to say yes. I have been backed and the process has worked well. It seems to me that we’re sticking to that plan.”
Villarreal manager Unai Emery feels his side start as underdogs but argued they did when they won the Europa League as well. “We don’t fear them but we have a high respect,” he said. “Manchester United is the clear favourite. It was also the favourite in the final.”