This Saturday, I will be up bright and early at 6:30 in the morning. Trust me, it’s not because I love the fresh morning air in Missouri. Saturday, Manchester United will play host to the reigning Premier League champions Leicester City at Old Trafford. When these seasons kicked off the season in the Community Shield way back in August, the Red Devils eeked out a 2-1 win. Can they get out of their week-long funk with another win, or will the Foxes get some revenge?
Starting out with the Foxes, they’re actually coming into this match with a pretty good run of form. After their opening day loss to Hull City, Claudio Ranieri’s side have lost just twice in a six-game stretch. Before their lost to Chelsea in the League Cup midweek, Leicester had won two straight matches by a combined score of 6-0, including a 3-0 inaugural Champions League victory over Club Brugge. While their results have tended to be favorable, when they lose, they lose big. 4-1 against Liverpool, and 4-2 against Chelsea have shown that their defense, when it’s not on top form, can be absolutely ripped apart. With the attacking talent in United’s lineup (I know it hasn’t been on display in the last three matches) Leicester could be in for another four-goal thriller in Manchester.
One player that has quickly emerged as a new attacking threat for Leicester is Islam Slimani. In his Premier League debut against Burnley, the former Sporting CP striker knocked in two-goals and became tied with Jamie Vardy for the club lead in goals. With Riyad Mahrez struggling to find his form, and Ahmed Musa not quite hitting at all cylinders, Slimani’s emergence couldn’t have come at a better time. Even though he’s only been with the club for two matches, Slimani has already established what looks like a pretty solid chemistry and his creativity provides them with another creative outlet to pair with Mahrez. While I don’t anticipate him banging in another two against United, I do think that he’ll be a thorn in the Red Devil’s side all match.
Switching over to United, if you listened to all of the uproar from some fans and the media, you’d think that José Mourinho was in the middle of a relegation battle right now. A less than stellar week featured three straight losses, with the worst one coming against Watford in a 3-1 embarrassment. In my opinion, all of this criticism and speculation is only going to motivate Mourinho and the squad to make a statement on Saturday. Before their three-match skid, the Red Devils were starting to look like the United of old, and the dynamic duo of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcus Rashford were bringing hope that we had one of this generation’s greatest strikers and the next generation’s superstar. With Anthony Martial potentially injured, we could see Rashford and Ibra start together for the first time this season. Can they provide United with a much-needed attacking spark?
The player that I really want to focus on for United is Daley Blind. The Dutchman wasn’t expected to remain as a centerback under Mourinho, and over the summer, some thought that he would end up leaving Old Trafford. For the first several games of the season, the 26-year-old shined in the heart of Mourinho’s back four alongside Eric Bailly, where they formed a dynamic partnership reminiscent of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand. Without him in the squad against Feyenoord or Watford, the Red Devils struggled to build up attacks from the back, and the midfield wasn’t as involved as they had been to start the season. Blind did start and play a full 90 minutes against Northampton in the League Cup so it’s unclear whether or not Mourinho will throw him back in for another 90 against Leicester, but I think that he provides some much needed composure and distribution ability.
After I just wrote about why United fans shouldn’t be panicking after last week, I feel like I can’t not pick them to win on Saturday. The Red Devils will be looking to silence the “Einsteins” of football as Mourinho calls them, and I think that Zlatan is going to have a big game upfront. Final score: United 1-0 Leicester