Our footy writer previews the mouth-watering clash between Manchester United and defending champions Leicester City.
Jose Mourinho’s utopic start to the season has been brought to a sobering halt in recent weeks. A ragtag 3-1 victory over third tier Northampton hardly quelled the growing discontent. Leicester are on the opposite end of the spectrum. Their season started in ignominious fashion, leading many to believe that Raneiri’s men were destined to become little more than a simple pub quiz special.
But their 3-0 victory in Europe has completely revitalized their campaign, despite the midweek slip-up. The red card did little to help their cause in what became a cakewalk for Chelsea. What was always primed to be a titanic battle this weekend, has now taken on mammoth proportions, particularly for Mourinho.
Manchester United v Leicester City | Saturday 24 September | Old Trafford | 13:30
To Win (90 mins)
Manchester United 13/20 | Draw 29/10 | Leicester City 4/1
Mourinho is back to his old tricks again. The public crucifixion of players is something that he has flirted with before. But Luke Shaw is a particularly unwise target. The young player has been long touted as the natural successor to Ashley Cole in the role of incumbent left full-back. Patriotic sentiment aside, Shaw has only recently returned from a shocking leg break suffered last season. United fans and ex-players alike are troubled by Mourinho’s lack of self-control.
Wayne Rooney seems likely to give way following yet another tepid performance midweek. I feel that Mkhitaryan - as natural a number 10 as you are likely to get - may be recalled into action.
Elsewhere, I expect Mourinho to obstinately show faith in most of the players. Bailey was poor against Watford but has looked generally impressive. Valencia and Shaw have pace, which will be the chief weapon at Leicester’s disposal. However, may need to keep his wits about him with the slippery Riyad Mahrez on his flank.
Paul Pogba got the night off midweek and will no doubt be looking to prove his doubters wrong. Danny Drinkwater and Daniel Amartey will provide some heavy traffic in midfield, so it’s unlikely that we will see the best of the mercurial Frenchman.
Leicester will be feeling extremely positive going into this encounter. They will welcome United possession and will attempt to make it as ineffectual as possible. Leicester’s dismantling at the hands of Liverpool was down to pace and incision.
This United side is far less dynamic, more focused on steady possession and physical domination. In fact, United have started to look disturbingly similar to the Louis van Gaal brand in recent weeks. This is exactly the type of side that Leicester thrives on.
I expect Shinji Okazaki to make way for impressive record-signing Islam Slimani. He is brilliant in the air and should dovetail perfectly with Jamie Vardy’s bursts of acceleration. Mahrez has yet to captivate the imagination in the same way as last season.
The Algerian playmaker will be hoping that Shaw will be negatively affected by Mourinho’s public critique: this could be an opportunity for him to unleash his array of dribbling powers. I’m looking at Marouane Fellaini and Pogba and I’m sensing real opportunity for Leicester. Fellaini’s mobility is questionable while Pogba is perpetually wandering.
Verdict: Leicester City Win (4/1)
I think that United would probably stand a better chance playing this game away from home. Old Trafford will expect a response from their beleaguered side, but Leicester will thrive playing on the break. In Vardy, Mahrez and Slimani they have the beating of United’s disjointed backline. The speed of Ahmed Musa off the bench lends further credence to my call.
Written by Damien Kayat @Hollywoodbets