Scouting The Opposition: Manchester United v Leicester City – Premier League 2016/17

Last season’s champions have had a patchy start to the new season. The pressure of repeating the fairy tale of 2016 may be proving too much for the Foxes. Add to that a busier schedule, including mid-week Champions League engagements, and Leicester may find it difficult to maintain the form that saw them perform so far beyond expectations last year. Despite this, they have stayed true to the principles of relentless pressing that worked so well for them last season. This has proved costly at times, especially in the 4-1 defeat to Liverpool but has served them well against lesser teams like Burnley and Club Brugge.

Manchester United head into this match having eased the pressure with the EFL Cup win over Northampton Town. Though not exactly a convincing return to form, avoiding a fourth straight loss at least gives Jose Mourinho a foundation to build on. Leicester City, however, is a different prospect. It will prove difficult for the Red Devils to take all three points here to keep pace with the league leaders.  The team with the most left in the tank after their midweek excursions could be the one who takes the points.

Manager: Claudio Ranieri

A difficult task faces the Leicester City manager this season. No one expects Leicester to repeat the amazing feat of lifting the title. This leaves the manager in the strange position of motivating a team where, realistically, the only way for them is down. Of course, that will not stop them from trying to retain their title and Ranieri has tried to remain faithful to the values that achieved their success, whilst signing the players he thinks will take the club forward.

Islam Slimani has the physical and aerial prowess to create a dynamic duo with Jamie Vardy, with Ahmed Musa a useful option from the bench. Yet his best business could prove to be holding on to Riyad Mahrez. With Arsenal waiting in the wings, Ranieri has managed to persuade the Algerian to remain in the Midlands for at least another season. With his future decided, for the moment at least, Mahrez has begun to return to the form that made him almost unplayable last year.

Key Player: Riyad Mahrez

Leicester’s joint top scorer so far, along with Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez is beginning to show his quality once again. Seemingly distracted by transfer rumours earlier in the season, it looks like the 2015/16 player of the year has settled back into his rhythm.  Blossoming under the lights of the Champions League. Manchester United have marshalled him well in the past. Jamie Vardy has often proven more of a nuisance to the United back four. Yet with injuries to fullbacks, as well as their fondness for pushing forward as often as possible, Mahrez may find himself with more time and space than usual. So perturbed was Jose Mourinho, he took to the media to criticise his fullbacks after the defeat to Watford. Mahrez will be looking forward to playing against them if they repeat that performance. Should Mahrez perform at anywhere near the peak of his powers, United’s defence could be in for a busy afternoon.

Form Guide

Leicester City 2-4 Chelsea

Leicester City 3-0 Burnley

Club Brugge 0-3 Leicester City

Predicted Starting XI

Score Prediction

Leicester City 1-1 Manchester United

With Leicester returning to form and Manchester United faltering, the Foxes will feel this is the ideal time to visit Old Trafford. Newly crowned champions, they will be unfazed facing Mourinho or the atmosphere in the stadium. Ranieri will look to avenge their Community Shield defeat at the start of the season. While not quite a must-win game for Mourinho’s men, this is definitely a must-not-lose. Following the blueprint of the previous two league meetings between the sides, this could end in a draw. United showed signs of improvement against Northampton and it would be a surprise not to see one of Michael Carrick or Ander Herrera restored to the starting line-up. Should one of these incisive midfielders play, we can expect the improvement in form to continue. Yet it may prove that defensive frailty is the key to this game. With a settled back four, Leicester are winning that battle. The niggling, combative presence of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez could be enough to unsettle United’s defence once again.

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