The twenty times champions of England will face the current reigning champions in an early Saturday kick-off at Old Trafford. With a win against Northampton Town, United avoided gifting Jose Mourinho his first streak of four losses in a row. However, it was “just Northampton” and United were always expected to beat them, but so was the case against Feyenoord and Watford. So although it is a victory, it needs to be taken and looked at objectively. There were things which looked better than the previous three outings while a few things(read: Wayne Rooney) appeared exactly the same.
United are still searching for their first win in the month of September, quite contrastingly to the September they had last season. But there were signs in the last game that a few mistakes or pain areas to be more appropriate were not only identified but also rectified. The midfield combination worked perfectly well against Northampton and gave the much-needed urgency to United’s attack. The question that now arises is, will Mourinho play a similar midfield in the game against Leicester City, in spite of both Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera, United’s two best players on the field that evening, playing all the 90 minutes? Fans would surely hope so, however, will have a completely different outlook towards another player who played the whole 90 minutes, Rooney.
Starting XI (4-3-3)
The manager has shown his inclination towards playing in the 4-3-3 setup, maybe not for the whole game but at least for major parts of it. This leads one to believe that it might actually be the long-term goal for this squad. Also, the personnel who shone brightest in the last game can operate better in a 4-3-3, considering Paul Pogba’s return to the squad.
Goalkeeper – David De Gea
Sergio Romero was hardly tested apart from a penalty so it was difficult to make much of his performance. Irrespective of that, however, De Gea will always be the preferred number one for Mourinho and understandably so. He will still be hoping for his clean sheet which has eluded him for past three games.
Back Four: Antonio Valencia, Eric Bailly, Chris Smalling, and Daley Blind
Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Marcus Rojo did not do much to impress Mourinho so it is more than likely to see Valencia back in the XI. Luke Shaw’s is a tricky case, with him being sidelined with a groin injury, it is not entirely sure if he will be fit to start as early as Saturday. However, in spite of his absence, it might be a bit too unlikely that Rojo makes a start, especially after that below par performance. With Smalling and Bailly trying to build a partnership, Blind might be shifted to the left back role for some time. There has been a severe deficiency of any sort of buildup from the back since Blind has been out of the squad. His footballing brain can compensate for the lack of physicality and speed, so with someone like Riyad Mahrez to keep tabs upon, Blind might work out to be a perfect solution.
Midfield: Michael Carrick, Ander Herrera, and Paul Pogba
A lot of people suggested that Carrick might be that person who can bring the best out of Pogba with his calm mind and presence around him. It was pretty evident against Northampton what the veteran brings to the team. Excellent ball distribution and solid hold of the midfield is something that was seen missing in the past week. Carrick brings all of this and with Herrera alongside it becomes an excellent combination of calm and intensity. Herrera has been almost outstanding since his appearance against Manchester City and Mourinho has awarded that with a lot of game time since. He will be expected to start again and put in a similar kind of shift. He has an infectious urgency in him which also keeps the players around him on toes and that is what this team exactly needs right now. Pogba on the other hand just needs someone experienced guiding him through that midfield. With Carrick alongside him, the fans might actually see what Pogba can bring to the team, fingers crossed.
Forwards: Memphis Depay, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Marcus Rashford
Memphis was given his first start of the season and although he was brought off an hour in the game, he did not do all that bad. Yes, he was not as good as people anticipated when he signed last season but with a lack of game time comes a lot of rustiness. The Dutchman did put in a lot of effort but could not do a lot to impress Mourinho. But with Anthony Martial ruled out for the game and Henrikh Mkhitaryan coming back from an injury after three games, Mourinho might not want to start him straightaway. All this works in Memphis’s favor and also the fact that he needs an extended run in order to make his point. Rashford has taken everyone by surprise, even those who witnessed his exploits last season. With Zlatan in the team, everyone thought he would be used as an impact sub but he has shown great determination and grabbed each chance by the neck and has almost forced the manager to start him. Zlatan, on the other hand, has been a little quiet in the past couple of games but he still holds a pretty good scoring rate in the Premier League and can never be underestimated.
Yes, that means Wayne Rooney might not start the game. With the game against Leicester scheduled only a couple of days after the Northampton game, it would have been logical to rest or at least substitute Rooney at some point in the game to keep the captain fit and fresh for the Premier League game. But the fact that he, not only played the ninety minutes but also was pretty poor in it, might mean that he might be brought off the bench on Saturday, instead of starting. One can argue that Carrick and Herrera too played the whole stretch but they played exceptionally well while Rooney was mostly unconvincing.
United needs to win this game in order to not fall off too much right at the start. Mourinho knows it and so does the team. However, Leicester are not going to make anything easy for United but the support of home fans, the twelfth player and the fact that the team is wounded, might help them get the desired result.