After an indifferent pre-season, the real test starts for Mourinho and his men and Manchester United face Leicester City in the FA Community Shield. It’s expected that Chris Smalling will be fit enough to come in to start in central defence as Mourinho confirms he is back in training during his pre-match press conference. Another likely change, although unconfirmed is that new signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan will replace Jesse Lingard on the right-hand-side providing that clinical edge United have lacked over the last couple of seasons. Mkhitaryan, who completed a £26.3m deal, was instrumental in Dortmund’s good season where he registered 11 goals and 15 assists in the league, and will be looking to continue that fine form in the season ahead. The right-back position seems unclear too as Antonio Valencia, who captained the side against Galatasaray, was impressive in pre-season but Matteo Darmian could easily step in after a good couple of substitute appearances.
Leicester has been preparing for the new season against some tough opposition including Celtic, Paris St Germain and La Liga winners Barcelona. This will have been a great challenge and experience for the squad but coming into this game off the back of two defeats won’t be the best for Claudio Ranieri’s men. With key men Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez set to stay at the King Power Stadium, the team will be confident of repeating their form from last season. Former United players Danny Drinkwater, Danny Simpson and Matty James could all potentially feature with the first two likely to start after excellent seasons with the Foxes. £16m signing Ahmed Musa, a club record fee, is a dangerous player providing pace, power and a keen eye for goal after bagging 18 goals in 53 games for CSKA Moscow.
Formations and style of play
As mentioned above, Manchester United are likely to line up in a 4-3-3 formation with Rooney sitting behind the striker. This is a favoured style of Jose Mourinho with one genuine holding player, either Carrick or Schneiderlin, a box to box midfielder, likely to be Ander Herrera as Bastian Schweinsteiger is seemingly out of Mourinho’s plans, and Wayne Rooney as the number 10 with Juan Mata the replacement. Mourinho has deployed this style with Chelsea, Inter Milan, and Real Madrid in the past as well as using it in the pre-season games. This mean that the two central players to drop back with the defence allowing the front three to stay forward to counter attack hard and with precision.
Leicester will play as they did in their title-winning season, the 4-4-2 formation relying on two genuine wingers to get up and down the pitch and Jamie Vardy to run in behind. In two games last season, both finishing 1-1, the main threat was the long ball over the top from either Kante, Drinkwater or Mahrez allowing Jamie Vardy to run on to. This will again be the problem United face as well as the added pressure from set-pieces where United struggled during pre-season.
In my eyes, there are two key match-ups for this game, firstly Riyad Mahrez v Luke Shaw. Luke Shaw was a massive loss for United last season after suffering a horrific injury in September keeping him out for the entire season. Since his return, he has shown great pace and endurance which is key in how United will line-up this season. However, this will likely be his biggest challenge since his return with the tricky Mahrez to contend with. Mahrez was PFA player of the year last year and not surprisingly, his 17 goals and 11 assists in 36 league games played a pivotal part of Leicester’s success. If Mahrez gets the better of Shaw on Sunday it could spell danger for United.
The second battle will be between Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wes Morgan and Robert Huth. Morgan and Huth formed a solid partnership at the back last season helping keep 15 clean sheets in the league and Morgan managed a terrific feat of playing every single minute the entire season. Both tall and physical, a sure match for any attacker in the Premier League. However, this season brings with it a new challenge for the reigning champs in the legendary striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic who brings height, skill and one of Europe’s best ever goal records, scoring 302 goals in 484 games. This will provide United with a clinical edge that been lacking since the Sir Alex era ended at Old Trafford.
In his press conference on Friday, Mourinho spoke about how he wanted to make this his team, not a shadow of what Louis van Gaal left for him. Clearly not a fan of the style in which United played under the Dutchman, Mourinho said
“The players are giving everything to adapt, step by step. My team will be my team.”
Quite a clear message that he wants to make his own mark on the way United play, which from a fan’s point of view can only be positive. Last season United became known for being a team to dominate possession, create few chances and conceding sloppy goals often from set pieces. According to Whoscored, United conceded an average of 10.8 shots per game, made 11.3 attempts on goal with an average possession of 56%. This will change, Jose Mourinho’s sides are often not wasteful. The possession will likely stay the same as they’ll want to force the game, attack strong and make it count. Adding players like Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Zlatan Ibrahimovic who love to get into attacking positions because they know they have the ability to deliver when it comes to assisting or scoring. Anthony Martial playing on the left-wing offers the direct style Mourinho likes to play with, as he did with Hazard and Willian at Chelsea, plenty of runs in behind and players supporting in the box to create as many chances as possible.
The big thing Mourinho will have to fix, and will have known it from the start, is the wasted possession. Leicester won the league with a low rate of possession but counter attacking especially against the big teams who love time on the ball. Mourinho will have to find a way with the players he has to break down defences more efficiently than Louis van Gaal managed to do because the majority of teams in the Premier League sit back and allow United to play, then counter against a relatively weak or inexperienced defence.
The only blessing really for Mourinho in a tactical sense is that Leicester will sit deep, it’ll be an open game allowing our midfield to dictate the play and find a way to break down the opposition. 10 men behind the ball with the counter of Mahrez, Vardy and Musa will be tough but with some patient play and clinical finishes, United should come out on top.