The Premier League returns on Friday as Leicester City face a difficult trip to Manchester United in the opening fixture. Jose Mourinho is entering into his third season as the manager at Old Trafford and there will be pressure on him to perform. Meanwhile, Claude Puel needs to start well after a disappointing second half of the season. Their supporters believe the Foxes to be a top-half team and they need to consolidate that position over the coming campaign.
The pre-season hasn’t gone amazingly well for Manchester United. Mourinho has regularly bemoaned the lack of signings while continuing to direct criticisms at the way rival clubs operate in the transfer market. It isn’t only rivals that have been the subject of the Portuguese manager’s ire, as he has questioned the commitment of Anthony Martial in a harsh manner after the Frenchman missed training to be with his family. It does feel like the wheels are coming off at Old Trafford and anything other than a win on Friday will exacerbate the problems.
Leicester City can go into this fixture with nothing to lose and they have the players to cause damage to Manchester United. James Maddison has been their headline addition from the Championship. It remains to be seen if he is thrown straight in, but a contribution of 14 goals and eight assists in the second tier underlines his quality. The Foxes will be without Riyad Mahrez this season after he departed to Manchester City, but that could provide an opportunity to the exciting and dynamic Demarai Gray.
This Friday will be Jose Mourinho’s tenth opening weekend match in English football. He has never lost and only failed to win on one occasion.
Last season, James Maddison’s goals and assists were worth 26 points for Norwich City. This was the most by a player for a team in the Championship.
After the club failed to strengthen significantly over the summer, there will be pressure on those already at the club to step up. Alexis Sanchez was a major signing made earlier this year, but the Chilean failed to stand out during his first few months as a Manchester United player. After his move from Arsenal, he contributed two goals and three assists in the Premier League. A player of his calibre should be offering a lot more in the final third and he will start this season with a point to prove. That should worry Leicester on the opening weekend. A number of other key United players went deep into the World Cup and that means the focus will be on Sanchez to shine at the beginning of the season. He has a stage. Now he must deliver.
There was speculation linking Schmeichel with a summer move away from the club, but he has stayed at Leicester and that is a huge boost. On his day, there are few better goalkeepers in the division. He has an important role to play as he is one of the leaders on the team and his experience will be vital against Manchester United. The two fixtures against United are particularly special for the goalkeeper due to the achievements of his father at Old Trafford. He will want to do well on Friday and if he does, the visitors have a great chance of getting a positive result.
Antonio Valencia, Diogo Dalot and Nemanja Matic were unavailable for the team’s final friendly against Bayern Munich. Eric Bailly and Ander Herrera are also doubts. Due to their role at the World Cup, Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford, Chris Smalling and Ashley Young are all not certainties to be involved on Friday.
Jamie Vardy and Harry Maguire are doubts due to their exploits at the World Cup. Jonny Evans and Demarai Gray are struggling with knocks.
Due to Mourinho’s record in the opening game and the match being at Old Trafford, Manchester United should have enough to take the three points on Friday to get their season off to a good start. At this stage, it is difficult to see them challenging for the title and another season of frustration is likely. If they are to challenge, they need to focus on matters on the pitch and deliver a convincing performance against Leicester. It won’t be easy, but they should earn the victory. Sanchez will be vital.
Manchester United 1 – 0 Leicester City