Trust Jose Mourinho to say something completely incongruous to the situation. When his Manchester United side romped to a 4-0 away victory at Swansea City, the reporter taking Jose’s interview must have expected a bit more ebullience. Instead, Mourinho said, “The thing I want to happen is for the team to be losing, so I can see the way we react emotionally.” Of course, he meant that he wanted to see how his team handles adversity. He was also complaining that they had not been presented with a tough challenge in their first two games. However, his wish might be granted in their third game of the season. Manchester United take on Leicester City at Old Trafford on Saturday and the Foxes indeed present a bigger challenge than West Ham or Swansea.
Manchester United go into the tie on the back of a couple of good bits of news. In Thursday’s UEFA Champions League draw, United were drawn against Benfica, Basel and CSKA Moskva, making their run to the round of 16 pretty straight forward. Perhaps a bigger positive news came earlier on Thursday, as they re-signed Zlatan Ibrahimovic on another one-year deal. Although the striker is not likely to be available until December, but his contributions last season drove United to two trophies, so his inclusion in the squad is also likely to have a positive impact.
Not that their last two performances need any more positivity. Two 4-0 wins in two game weeks, with their new striker scoring three goals, are ample reasons for a positive mood at Old Trafford. Stats say that United have already scored 15% of the goals they scored last season. Looking at United play in the first two matches, it seems that they will surpass that total tally much earlier in the season this time around.
Their opponents are also no mugs in attack. Leicester City lost the inaugural game of this Premier League season due to defensive lapses in the dying minutes but bounced back with a dominant display against Brighton last week. They also bossed Sheffield United in the Carabao Cup (League Cup) on Wednesday to win the tie 1-4 away. They are not as tightly knit in the defence as their opponents for Saturday and have given away 5 goals in all competitions, while scoring 9. If they wish to indulge Jose and push his team into a losing position on Saturday, they will have to improve their defence, while keeping up their attacking instincts.
- Saturday’s match represents the 125th meeting between the two sides, with United having 63 wins to their name in comparison to 33 victories for Leicester.
- Manchester United are undefeated in 29 of their last 31 matches, keeping a clean sheet in eight of their last 11.
- Conversely, Leicester have lost or drawn 20 of their last 22 away games in the Premier League.
- They have also failed to win their last six competitive trips to Old Trafford, losing five. In their last league match there, they lost 4-1
While stars such as Lukaku and Pogba have gained all the limelight in the first two matches, but one player’s contributions have been immense in making United’s attack so potent. Henrikh Mkhitaryan has started this season in the Dortmund-like form that he showed in the last season for the Germans. His expected assists per 90 minutes are 1.08, which means that based on his form in the first two matches, we can say that he will definitely provide an assist if he plays an entire game. His four assists have been crucial to United’s attack and if Craig Shakespeare tightens his defence a bit, Mkhitaryan will again be required to unlock it.
In a league, full of truant players trying to force a transfer to a bigger team, Riyad Mahrez has come across as a model professional. He wants to transfer to Roma but he is not shirking his duties. He has played both the games, assisted two goals and has himself threatened a bit, especially against Brighton. To unlock a Mourinho defence, Leicester need creativity in addition to Vardy and Okazaki’s pace and Mahrez is the best suited to provide that.
Manchester United do not seem to have any fitness concerns other than the continued absence of Marcos Rojo and now renewed absence of Zlatan. Mourinho does not need to make any changes to the winning combination and is not expected to make any.
Leicester City on the other hand are facing the opposite situation. Six of their players are doubtful for Saturday’s game including the centre back partnership of Harry Maguire and Wes Morgan. Vicente Iborra, Robert Huth, Danny Drinkwater and Kelechi Iheanacho are all doubts as well. However, Shakespeare will be hoping that Maguire and Morgan can prove their fitness in late tests and be available for this crucial match.
Playing a title contender away is always a tough ask. But playing such an opponent with so many doubtful starters and after a hectic midweek game is even tougher. Leicester City have the attack to trouble Manchester United more than their last two opponents but to expect them to overcome the Red Devils at home would be naïve. Jose will have to wait a little while before he can see his side actually losing.
Manchester United 3 – 1 Leicester City