Manchester United vs Leicester City at Old Trafford is the Premier League season curtain raiser this year. When the fixtures were announced, this looked like a relatively routine opening bout, albeit one with a hint of difficulty. A lot has happened since then and if United don’t win this game, things could unravel rather quickly.
United had a relatively meek pre-season tour out in America, in which they only won once. During that tour, the manager spent whatever free time he had to state how terrible his squad was. He also said that if the club didn’t sign any more players they wouldn’t be good enough. They failed to sign those players. So here we are.
Predicted starting eleven
How will the team that’s not good enough line up? Jose Mourinho has used a few different systems on the tour, switching between a back three and a back four. However, it does seem that the plan is to stick to the 4-3-3 he has favoured during his career.
Six first-team players have already been ruled out through injury. Then there’s a whole host of players returning from the World Cup who haven’t had a pre-season. Unless Mourinho decides to risk one of them, the team basically picks itself.
The only question is who will start in the centre of defence? Mourinho seems to favour Bailly and Smalling as his first-choice centre-backs. No wonder, as when it comes to defenders, they lead the stats in interceptions per game and tackles per game. Only the injured Rojo and unprepared Jones beat them out for clearances.
But seeing as Lindelof started against Bayern Munich, it seems Mourinho prefers him for the opener. He needs to improve on his defensive stats this year. 1 tackle, 0.8 interceptions and 3.8 clearances a game is not good enough.
Predicted XI: De Gea; Darmian, Lindelof, Bailly, Shaw; Fred, Pereira, McTominay; Mata, Rashford, Sanchez.
When Mourinho signed Alexis Sanchez, he stated that it was not a signing for January, but for the summer. Well, time to show it, Alexis.
With so many key players missing, the Chilean will have to provide the attacking thrust to the side. He’s likely to be up against Premier League debutant Ricardo Pereira. Hopefully, he can take advantage of his inexperience and cause havoc down the left flank.
Last season he averaged 2.2 key passes a game and 3.7 dribbles and that wasn’t even him at his best. If he can repeat or exceed that in this game then United have a chance. If he carries that on throughout the season, who knows what might happen?
This game will be won and lost in central midfield. It’s a cliche for a reason.
Leicester have a very strong midfield base. Iborra and Ndidi are likely to start in there, with new signing Maddison in front of them. McTominay, Fred and Pereira are going to have to work hard to keep the ball and create chances against that midfield.
Out in the US, Pereira showed he is ready to be considered a first team player, starring in United’s defeat to Liverpool. In Spain, he only managed a pass completion of 71.6%, which isn’t good enough for United’s midfield. He already looks far more capable than that, regularly keeping the ball for his side under severe pressure out in America.
Undoubtedly signed to be the missing link between Matic and Pogba, Fred is going to have to step up as the main creative force in the midfield for this game. If he can find pockets of space away from the Leicester midfield, then United can dominate in this area of the field. However, he only averaged 1.1 key passes per game in the Champions League last season, preferring to play deeper for Shakhtar Donetsk. Time to step up, Fred.
Despite all the negativity, United have a squad capable of winning this game. Even though they didn’t sign a new centre-back, their defence last year only conceded one more goal than City. Vardy aside, Leicester’s attack isn’t the most potent. The defence should have more than enough to cope.
That passes the responsibility to the midfield and attack to step up and be counted. A lot of the players who will feature have a point to prove and hopefully, they’ll take it. In Fred, Sanchez and Rashford, United should have enough ability to create and score chances.
If United can win this game, it could go a long way to quelling a lot of the negative feelings that are surrounding the team at the moment. Winning at home against a top half team with a ‘second string’ eleven looks mighty impressive.
However, a defeat or a poor performance that results in a draw would be calamitous. Fingers will start to be pointed, players could be deemed unworthy and morale could crash. United haven’t needed an opening game win this much for quite some time.
It won’t be easy, it won’t be routine, but it could easily be a nervy 2-0 win.