Against an already relegated Huddersfield, United staggered to a 1-1 draw which terminated the hopes of the most successful team in English Premier League history of qualifying for next season’s lucrative Champions League.
But a breakaway leveler from Isaac Mbenza ensured that the Yorkshire club not only ruined United’s chances of competing with Europe’s elite next season, but also escaped becoming the first side in English top-flight history to fail to reach double goalscoring figures at home.
In scoring its 10th league goal of the season at home, Huddersfield secured only its 15th point of the campaign. It was Jonas Lossl’s punt downfield, which Luke Shaw failed to deal with, that allowed Mbenza to run clear of United’s backpedaling defense and slot home past David de Gea.
Scott McTominay had put United in front in the first half, but Solskjaer’s men never looked convincing.
The visitors did, however, go close to snatching a late win through substitute Tahith Chong, while Paul Pogba also hit the bar — but De Gea also needed to be alert to deny Karlan Grant in the final stages at the other end.
Chelsea’s 3-0 win over Watford means Solskjaer’s team — now five games without a win — cannot overtake Chelsea in third or Tottenham in fourth.
As consolation for United, Arsenal’s 1-1 draw against Brighton in the later match on Sunday means the Manchester side can still aim for fifth place.
The manner of the draw against one of the poorest teams in EPL history, statistically at least, and the absence of Champions League football next season, raises questions about how United can overcome its malaise.
A run of 14 wins from 19 matches, which included victory over PSG to reach the Champions League quarterfinals, secured the Norwegian a three-year deal and put United back in contention for a top-four finish after Mourinho had said at the end of 2018 that the team would need a “miracle” to qualify for Europe’s premier cup competition.
Such was the improvement that in January Solskjaer was crowned the EPL manager of the month, becoming the first United manager to win the award since Sir Alex Ferguson.
The improvement in players who struggled under Mourinho, such as Pogba and Anthony Martial, was also widely regarded as having persuaded United’s hierarchy to give Solskjaer the job on a permanent basis.
But the last month has demonstrated how big a task the former United striker has on his hands if he is to return United to the upper echelons of the EPL. Indeed, questions are now being raised as to whether the 46-year-old should have been given the role on a permanent basis. Not only have results taken a downturn, but the club’s most high-profile stars have also failed to impress in recent weeks.
“There is nothing I like about this United team at all,” said former United defender Gary Neville while commentating on the match for Sky Sports. “They are just awful. A despondent group of people.”