London (AFP) – Manchester United slumped to another damaging defeat for manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in losing 4-1 at Watford on Saturday as Chelsea thrashed Leicester to extend their Premier League lead to six points.
Solskjaer has clung onto his job despite a run of just one win in seven Premier League games to slip to seventh, 12 points adrift of the leaders.
A managerial change made an instant impact for Aston Villa as late goals from Ollie Watkins and Tyrone Mings beat Brighton 2-0 to give Steven Gerrard a winning start to his coaching career in the Premier League.
However, Newcastle slipped to the bottom of the table in the absence of their new boss Eddie Howe, who tested positive for coronavirus on Friday, as the Magpies were held 3-3 at home by Brentford.
United’s hierarchy has remained loyal to Solskjaer despite intense pressure in recent weeks to make a change.
But even their resolve will be tested after a fifth defeat in seven league games against the struggling Hornets.
Watford could even afford to miss an early penalty twice as David de Gea saved from Ismaila Sarr and Kiko Femenia’s follow-up from the first spot-kick was ruled out for encroaching.
Joshua King worked under Solskjaer in the United youth ranks and did his old boss no favours by converting a low cross on 28 minutes to give the home side a deserved lead.
Sarr made amends for his penalty misses just before the break by drilling home from a narrow angle.
Solskjaer responded by introducing Donny Van de Beek at half-time and his refusal to give the Dutchman more opportunities will be questioned after he made an instant impact to turn home Cristiano Ronaldo’s header across goal.
However, just as the visitors were building momentum, captain Harry Maguire’s miserable season suffered another setback when he was sent off for a second bookable offence.
Joao Pedro and Emmanuel Dennis rubbed more salt into United’s wounds in stoppage time.
After a tough Champions League trip to Villarreal on Tuesday, United travel to the league leaders Chelsea next weekend with the question again whether Solskjaer will still be in charge.
– Chelsea surge clear –
The Blues were dominant as they toyed with Leicester in a 3-0 win despite still missing record signing Romelu Lukaku through injury.
Antonio Rudiger’s header opened the scoring before N’Golo Kante came back to haunt his old side with a brilliant run and strike from the edge of the box.
Substitute Christian Pulisic put the seal on a brilliant all-round performance from the European champions, who also had two goals ruled out for offside.
“It’s a good away game, an excellent result,” said Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel.
“We knew we needed to be strong from first to last minute. This is what we did.”
Gerrard got off to a dream start at Villa Park as his new side moved four points clear of the relegation zone.
England internationals Watkins and Mings produced stunning finishes in the final six minutes to edge a nervy contest against Brighton.
Howe had to watch a thriller at St. James’ Park from a hotel in isolation.
The Magpies twice had to come from behind after Ivan Toney cancelled out Jamaal Lascelles’ opener for the home side.
Rico Henry put Brentford in front before the much-maligned Joelinton levelled.
Lascelles then netted at the wrong end, but Allan Saint-Maximin salvaged a point for Howe’s men that does little for their bid to beat relegation as they are five points adrift of safety.
Norwich also got a bounce from a new manager as they moved off the foot of the table in Dean Smith’s first match in charge thanks to a 2-1 win over Southampton.
Che Adams put the Saints in front, but Teemu Pukki and Grant Hanley lifted the Canaries to within three points of safety.
Burnley remain rooted in the bottom three after another six-goal thriller at Turf Moor ended 3-3 with Crystal Palace.
West Ham missed the chance to move into second and cut Chelsea’s lead to three points as Raul Jimenez scored the only goal in a 1-0 win for Wolves at Molineux.
Liverpool can therefore go second when they host in-form Arsenal at Anfield in Saturday’s late kick-off (1730GMT).