It feels like it’s been an eternity since the Barclays Premier League ended back in May. Now, the start of the (non-branded) Premier League is almost upon us. This weekend, we’ll see our first competitive game of the English schedule as reigning league champions Leicester City take on the reigning FA Cup winners Manchester United. This has been a big summer for both clubs with new faces joining, and some familiar faces leaving. The Foxes, despite being the reigning champs, aren’t really being favored that much by the media in the lead-up to the season, and a victory over Jose Mourinho’s United could send a very clear message to fans: Leicester is for real. Will the Special One spoil the party?
Let’s start off with Leicester. The Foxes will be missing one of their most important players from last season in the midfield. N’Golo Kante, arguably one of the team’s three best players alongside Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy, left to join Chelsea during the summer transfer window, and as expected, some fans are panicking. Claudio Ranieri was quick to ease the supporters by reminding them how everyone had a similar reaction last summer when Esteban Cambiasso opted against resigning. With all due respect to Ranieri, I think that Kante’s loss will have a slightly bigger impact than Cambiasso’s departure, but the 64-year-old has proven he can get the most out of any player. Without Kante, look for Danny Drinkwater to take the reigns as the midfield general. His performances last season were top-notch, so Leicester’s fans should have some confidence that he can repeat that form this season, as well.
While Kante marked the biggest name leaving the King Power Stadium this summer, Ahmed Musa represented the team’s marquee signing. The speedy striker has already shown fans what he’s capable of with a two-goal performance against Barcelona in the summer’s International Champions Cup. Last year at CSKA Moscow, the 23-year-old scored 17 times in 40 appearances. His arrival means that the Foxes now have one of the fastest striking partnerships in the league. We all know what Vardy is capable of, and Musa should be able to draw some of the defensive attention away from his partner in crime. United will likely be playing Daley Blind and Eric Bailly at centerback, so it will be interesting to see how this new pairing will handle Leicester’s speed in attack.
Moving onto United, the man to watch has to be Zlatan Ibrahimovic. It took just three minutes for Zlatan to score a highlight reel goal for the Red Devils courtesy of a bicycle kick against Galatasaray. The 34-year-old has shown no signs of age during the preseason, and was United’s most threatening player during Wayne Rooney’s testimonial against Everton. Zlatan’s partnership with Rooney appears to be developing slowly but surely, and it may finally pay dividends against Leicester. Flanked by two pacy wingers in Anthony Martial (now number 11) and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Ibra should be able to act as the team’s big center forward and get plenty of service into the penalty area. Can he pull out something extraordinary in his competitive debut?
United’s preseason hasn’t exactly gone to plan. The Euros forced Mourinho to work with a shorthanded squad for the early parts of training, and nightmarish weather in China meant that a “derby” match against Manchester City in Beijing had to get cancelled. Before Rooney’s testimonial, Mourinho told reporters that he needed to get minutes into all of his player’s legs. The lack of game time showed slightly, as United’s link-up play was a little off for sections of the game. You could see the ideas that the players had, but they just weren’t quite on the same page. On the bright side, it looks as if we are finally going to see the return of attacking football at Old Trafford. Players push forward, and there seems to be a purpose to the passing rather than just boring fans to death. It was also refreshing to see the manager on the touchline giving players instructions, rather than just sitting in the dugout. The Mourinho era is finally here, and what better way to ring it in than with a piece of silverware.
It’s been a while since I’ve been this enthusiastic about Manchester United going into a season. We have a manager that understands the culture of the club, and players that look ready and willing to fight. As much as I loved Leicester’s Cinderella run last season, I think that the loss of Kante is going to handicap their midfield too much for them to repeat that run this year. Final score prediction: United 2-1 Leicester as Paul Pogba watches from the stands announcing his arrival. Please Paul.