Back to Old Trafford, back to reality for Manchester United

With the International Break done and dusted, Manchester United return to Premier League action this weekend, welcoming Leicester City to Old Trafford. The former champions find themselves third in the table and are also one of three sides who are unbeaten in the league. Let’s take a look at how both squads shape up for the clash, by seeing how their players have fared over the break.

Manchester United

Starting close to home, four of United’s players were selected to represent England in qualifying matches for next summer’s European Championships. Aaron Wan-Bissaka received a maiden call-up but was forced to drop out on account of a back injury. That was particularly unfortunate for the Croydon-born right-back, who would’ve no doubt been eager to make his England debut, after impressing over the last 18 months and earning the move to Old Trafford.

Jesse Lingard was also selected but later dropped out due to illness. The two who were able to play were Harry Maguire and Marcus Rashford, who both started and the played the full 90 in the first match against Bulgaria. Rashford won a penalty and switched from playing on the wing to playing up front for the last 15 minutes or so as England swept Bulgaria aside 4-0.

Maguire had the honour of briefly captaining the side for these minutes and preserved their clean sheet. Their next game proved to be one of the most entertaining of the break, as they beat a spirited Kosovo side 5-3, with Maguire playing from start to finish and conceding a contentious penalty, while Rashford emerged as a substitute for the last few minutes.

Further afield, David de Gea has seemingly lost his place as Spain’s first-choice goalkeeper, this after a dramatic loss of form over the last few months. The 28-year-old, who is reportedly on the verge of signing a contract extension with United, did not play against Romania in Spain’s first UEFA Euro 2020 qualifier of the break. He returned to the starting line-up to keep a clean sheet against the Faroe Islands, in a 4-0 win for La Roja.

In the same qualification group, Victor Lindelöf scored his third goal for Sweden when they defeated the Faroe Islands 4-0. They were then held to a 1-1 draw at home to fellow Scandinavians Norway, which prompted United’s centre-back to criticise his own performance. In all honesty, he has not been at his best this season and will be looking to bounce back after playing 180 minutes with his nation.

Scott McTominay featured heavily for Scotland over the past week, starting both of their qualifying matches. They were beaten 2-1 by Russia, before suffering a hammering at the hands of Belgium, losing 4-0. In that game, United’s towering centre-midfielder picked up a booking that will see him miss the Scots next encounter, away against Russia during the next International Break, in around a month’s time. He played a total of around 170 minutes.

August’s Player of the Month, Daniel James, started both of Wales’ games this past week. He played the full 90 minutes as Wales picked up three points in their qualification group with a late 2-1 victory over Azerbaijan. The speedy winger then started and scored the winner in their friendly against Belarus, before being given a rest, early in the second half. This goal was particularly pleasing for United supporters, who noted that James has scored three strikingly similar goals coming off the left flank already this season.

Frenchmen Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial were unable to play a part in their country’s games during the break, owing to injury. Pogba was initially selected for Les Bleus but was forced to drop out, as he suffered an ankle injury late on in United’s last game away at Southampton. Martial missed out on selection and that game, owing to a thigh injury suffered during United’s defeat to Crystal Palace the week prior.

Outside manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s preferred players so far this season, Marcos Rojo returned to action with Argentina after not taking the field in their friendly against rivals Chile. He started and completed 90 minutes in their next match against Mexico. The tough-tackling defender picked a customary yellow card in this match, as La Albiceleste ran out 4-0 winners. He seems likely to leave United sometime soon, either in January or next summer.

Experienced midfielder Nemanja Matić featured in both of Serbia’s games this past week, starting and playing the full 90 as they were defeated 4-2, by reigning European and Nations League champions Portugal. He dropped to the bench for their second qualifying fixture against Luxembourg but emerged to see out the final 10 minutes or so of their 3-1 victory. At youth level, Mason Greenwood made his debut for England’s under-21 side, remarkably at just 17.

He appeared twice as a substitute in their qualifiers for the UEFA European Under-21 Championship, with the next edition set to take place in June 2021. His maiden appearance came against the Turkish under-21 side, as England fought back late on to win 3-2. Greenwood followed this up with a more lengthy appearance against the Kosovo under-21 team, playing the last half-hour as England won 2-0. Angel Gomes and Brandon Williams were involved with the England under-20 squad in their U20 Elite League fixtures.

Williams started both games at left-back, while Gomes started the first game against the Dutch under-20s and dropped to the bench for the second match, against the Swiss under-20 side. They were not defeated, drawing the first game goalless, before claiming a late 1-0 win in the second. Winger Tahith Chong received a call-up to the Netherlands under-21 squad to face their counterparts from Cyprus in their only qualifying fixture during the break.

He stepped off the bench for the last 20 minutes as they emphatically won the match 5-1. United’s academy also had reason to celebrate this past week. Reserve team midfielder Ethan Galbraith made his senior debut for Northern Ireland, albeit in a friendly against Luxembourg. On-loan goalkeeper Kieran O’Hara meanwhile, made his senior debut for the Republic of Ireland, in their friendly against Bulgaria.

Leicester City

Kasper Schmeichel kept two clean sheets, although Denmark were held to a surprise goalless draw against Georgia in their qualifying group. The Danes had thumped Gibraltar 6-0 in their earlier fixture. Ben Chilwell sat out England’s match against Bulgaria but returned from injury to start in the eight-goal thriller against Kosovo. Former United defender Jonny Evans meanwhile, also featured for 90 minutes for Northern Ireland, as they were defeated 2-0 by Germany in their qualifying fixture.

He sat out the earlier friendly against Luxembourg. Impressive defender Çağlar Söyüncü played the full 90 in one of Turkey’s qualifying fixtures over the break, picking up a booking but also keeping a clean sheet in a 1-0 win against minnows Andorra. Talented midfield players Youri Tielemans, Dennis Praet and James Maddison were all selected to represent their nations. Tielemans started both of Belgium’s games, the 4-0 thrashing of Scotland, which preceded a victory over San Marino by the same score-line.

Compatriot Praet made a substitute appearance in the San Marino game. Maddison was unable to make his international debut, as he remained on the bench for both England’s games over the past week. Leicester’s Nigerian internationals, Wilfred Ndidi and Kelechi Iheanacho did not feature in the Super Eagles’ recent fixture, a 2-2 draw against Ukraine. Regular defensive midfielder Ndidi was not called up, while deputy striker Iheanacho was selected but did not take the field.

Manchester United vs Leicester City

United were victorious in both league fixtures against the Foxes last season. They kicked off 2018/19 with a 2-1 win over Leicester at Old Trafford, with Pogba and Luke Shaw scoring for the Red Devils and Jamie Vardy getting a late consolation for the visitors. This match, of course, came to a short while after players on both sides progressed to the latter stages of the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

The return fixture at the King Power Stadium yielded a 1-0 win for United, courtesy of an early goal from Rashford. This particular fixture is likely to be more difficult for United on this occasion. Leicester’s key players have been in good form of late, and many of them have been able to get some rest over the International Break.

Vardy in particular, is in good formhas a decent record against United and the other clubs in the top six and has been able to recharge his batteries over the break. This fixture will also be the first time Harry Maguire faces one of his former sides since his world-record move to United, the next being in November when the Red Devils travel to face Sheffield United, the English centre-back’s boyhood club.

As strange as it may seem, United manager Solskjaer is probably a little envious of some of the players his opposite number, Brendan Rodgers will have at his disposal this weekend. Tielemans, Maddison, Ndidi and Chilwell are, among others, a few players who would be in and around United’s current preferred starting XI.

Solskjaer will no doubt be keeping an eye on them and he will have also warned his players of the qualities of these players and the dangers they will bring.

In Closing

Without a doubt, United need to get back to winning ways as soon as possible. Their league fixtures this month will each be a challenge, but claiming victory in one of the more difficult matches will only boost their confidence that much more. The first game after the International Break is never easy and it will be the same for Leicester, of course.

The Foxes, however, will be relishing playing United, particularly at this point in time. United’s performances prior to the break were error-strewn and they will be facing a high-flying side, with less preparation time than for any of their previous league fixtures. Nevertheless, they need to get back on track.

Written by Shiven Nayager

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I support Manchester United, the greatest English football team to have ever existed. Bruno Fernandes is the latest in a long line of players with great ability to play for the club. I idolised Bryan Robson, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, and Eric Cantona growing up.