17:30 KO (BST); Saturday 26th August; Old Trafford (Manchester, England); BT Sport
Two games, eight goals and plenty of praise can neatly sum of Manchester United’s stunning start to the season. José Mourinho appears to have United purring in these early stages which is a long way from the recent campaigns that have been endured rather than enjoyed by the Old Trafford faithful.
United have enjoyed a good track record against Leicester recently, losing only one of their previous 24 Premiership meetings. With the start to the season that they’re currently enjoying, Mourinho will expect this run to continue.
By contrast, Leicester are a team of sharp extremes, delivering either really good or really bad results and performances. This unpredictability is one of the main attractions for neutrals watching Premiership football, however, for Leicester fans and management it is a taxing business.
With two good performances in the league so far, Leicester know that results are the all-important factor that the history books reveal clearly. Another defeat against United will reveal three points collected from their opening three games, an extreme disparity between their good form on the pitch and their bad form in the table.
LAST TIME OUT
MANCHESTER UNITED 4 – 0 Swansea City (Premiership)
Three rapid-fire goals in a four-minute spell gave the scoreline a lick of gloss against a Swansea side that had been disciplined for the majority of the match. United looked convincing without over-powering their opponents for much of the opening 80 minutes. However, a change in tactics by Paul Clement who tried to salvage a point towards the end of the game drastically backfired for the Welsh club.
Paul Pogba again played a vital role for United in the centre of the field. After cutting a frustrated figure earlier in the match and picking up United’s only yellow card as a result, he regained his composure to lift United towards three more points.
Winning six of his eight take-ons in a congested midfield area and adding a goal at the end of the game to wrap up the victory, Pogba is looking much more like the player United paid £89m for last summer. A bargain by today’s ludicrous standards.
Sheffield United 1 – 4 LEICESTER CITY (EFL Cup – Second round)
Making eight changes to the side which faced Brighton, Chris Hughton gave a chance for many of the Foxes peripheral players to shine and they didn’t let him down. While Islam Slimani converted two chances to put the tie beyond Sheffield United, it was the performance of Demarai Gray that many people were most interested in..
After speculation and rumour suggesting that the young winger is expecting more playing opportunities either at Leicester or elsewhere, he grabbed his chance here with both hands. His goals at the beginning of the second half which broke the deadlock was a spectacular solo effort that showcased his abilities.
Whether this is a display which forces his way into the first-team or places him firmly in the shop window, Gray looked in inspired form and will certainly have made many people sit up and take notice.
Manchester United Lineup
Mourinho will again be missing the services of Luke Shaw (foot) Marcos Rojo (knee) and Ashley Young (hamstring) while new signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic continues his rehabilitation from a knee injury.
Danny Drinkwater (thigh) remains unavailable for selection while speculation continues to shroud his future at the club. Robert Huth (ankle) will also miss out as will Vicente Iborra (groin) while both Kelechi Iheanacho (toe) and Harry Maguire (knock) will both face late assessments after the latter picked up a minor injury against Sheffield United.
Key Battle: Henrikh Mkhitaryan vs Wilfred Ndidi
While his shooting accuracy could arguably require a little refinement, Mkhitaryan has started this season with a bang. Assisting two of United’s four goals against the Swans with a further four key passes, his vision and awareness are as sharp as anyone in the Premier League presently and he’s a player with the technique and ability to put his ideas into practice.
Nobody in the Premiership has been as creatively effective so far at this early stage and Leicester will need to be aware of the Armenian who is quietly making United click into gear.
One of the Foxes only positives from the start of last season’s disastrous title defence was the form of Wilfred Ndidi. Fitting directly into the Leicester team to take over the intimidating void left behind by Ngolo Kante’s departure, Ndidi handled the task admirably. He’s also begun this season where he left off last, with another solid performance last week in their victory over Brighton.
Disrupting the opposition’s attack and stabilising the central area of the pitch in Leicester’s favour, he will face a much tougher challenge at Old Trafford but he could be the key to stifling United’s play and triggering a foxes revival.
United’s unsung hero
Phil Jones has been a rock at the back for United since his return from injury and on current form, it will be a tough task for new signing Victor Lindelöf to displace Jones in the Red Devils back-line. Not only has Jones been the main reason United have kept two clean sheets, he’s also acted as a platform for the team to build forwards by comfortably bringing the ball out of defence for his team and getting forwards to add a physical presence further up the pitch when needed.
With an average passing accuracy of 93% from their first two games, Jones has rarely put a foot wrong after he was largely regarded as a player to make way for Mourinho’s more glamorous acquisitions at the back.
His determined mentality and willingness to put his body on the line for his team is a strong quality though, something which Mourinho places above many other aspects of a player’s attributes which may see Jones feature in the starting line-up for some time to come yet.
The Moroccan Magician
Of the many high-profile transfer sagas to hit the headlines over the last two years, Riyad Mahrez is a name which has chalked up a considerable amount of column inches. With the former player-of-the-year declaring his intention to depart the King Power Stadium, many interested parties appear to have been put off signing him by the large price tag that Leicester have placed around his neck.
In real terms, £50m, as generally reported, is a huge amount of money. In today’s footballing terms, £50m for Riyad Mahrez seems like a bargain. Having been heavily involved with three of Leicester’s five league goals so far, the midfield maestro is starting to look more like the player of two years ago than the player who began last season.
Wherever he does end up after next weeks transfer deadline, he looks to be reaching the kind of form that will make £50m seem like a very worthy investment.
PREDICTION: Manchester United 2 – 0 Leicester City
United will not be able to run away with this game in the manner of their first two victories despite the teams last meeting proving an easy 3-0 win for the Reds. Leicester have started the season with some serious intent and purpose which should provide United with a much sterner test at the back as City will try to counter at them with pace.
Home advantage and a swagger in their walk lead me to think that United will come out on top and on current form, they will be looking to score more than once in front of their own fans.
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