Manchester United welcome Leicester City to Old Trafford in the Premier League on Sunday afternoon. United sit five points adrift of both league leaders Manchester City and second-placed Arsenal at this stage of the season and with both teams playing prior to United’s match on Sunday, could either see one or both teams eight points clear or one or both dropping points, either with a six point or still five points clear of United. If the latter happens, United need to capitalise.
United drew 2-2 with Barcelona at the Camp Nou in the UEFA Europa League play off round on Thursday evening, which will mean a feisty affair at the Theatre of Dreams next Thursday to find the victor of this match to reach the round of 16 stage of the competition. United will need to capitalise against Leicester too so they can keep their top four dreams alive in the Premier League this season. United sit five points clear of fourth-placed Newcastle United.
This means that United cannot end up lower that third this weekend so they have a cushion in their favour at this time but Newcastle do have a game in hand over them. They face Liverpool in the late kick off on Saturday evening, so that will be a big test for the team which has five draws in their last six matches. Leicester sit 13th in the league so far this season, six points ahead of the relegation zone but still close enough to be sucked into a relegation battle.
Predicted Manchester United Starting XI – 4-2-3-1
Dalot, Varane. Martinez, Shaw;
Sancho, Fernandes, Rashford;
Goalkeeper: De Gea
David De Gea performed some great saves to deny Barcelona on Thursday evening at the Camp Nou which kept United in the tie which will be decided at the Theatre of Dreams on Thursday evening. The Spanish goalkeeper is seeking to match Peter Schmeichel’s 180 clean sheet record at United, which he has a massive chance of doing this season – it could even come against Leicester City at Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon – which would be a fitting occasion.
This season could be De Gea’s last at United unless he signs a new contract, which would be on a lesser deal to what he has now. He will be seeking to remain at the club though as it seems like Erik ten Hag is on the cusp of creating something great with the club all with new owners likely before the end of the season. De Gea is unlikely to be tested this season with Tom Heaton playing few matches and Jack Butland still to be tested this season. Perhaps this weekend?
Whilst it seems unlikely that Ten Hag will rest De Gea for this match, it could be a possibility. But for the likes of Leicester, De Gea will be required in goal because United know what they are getting with him this season. He will be ready for the challenge of Leicester, Barcelona and Newcastle United in the next three matches – the three matches that could well define United’s season – especially the latter two which could see United continue in the Europa League and win a trophy.
Defenders: Dalot, Varane, Martinez, Shaw
United’s defence has done well this season but there will need to be an improvement now that Lisandro Martinez will return after sitting out the Barcelona first leg match due to suspension. United will need to be aware of the threat of Leicester on Sunday as they have scored eight goals – conceding three in their last two matches which shows how prevalent they can be in attack. I think that Martinez will partner Raphael Varane in this match – but the Frenchman could also be rested.
Martinez and Varane have formed a good partnership this season but the likes of Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire will be seeking to start more and find more minutes on the pitch this season. Maguire could be in line to start against his former club but I would rather keep him on the bench, see United get a job done then bring him on later in the match. United have strength in dept in the defensive roles this season and that is a good things for United. Some additions will be needed.
In the fullback roles, I think Diogo Dalot will return to the starting XI against Leicester as he continues to regain his match fitness after his last injury layoff. He was rested against Barcelona so thins match would allow Aaron Wan-Bissaka to be kept fresh after his latest escapade against Barcelona. Luke Shaw looks set to return to his favoured left-back role against Leicester after playing in the centre of the defence against Barcelona because of the suspension of Martinez.
Midfield: Sabitzer, Fred
Casemiro is suspended for the visit of Leicester this weekend in the Premier League – which will be the final match he will be suspended after his red card against Crystal Palace. He has been a big loss for United but the club is almost over that hill and soon he and Marcel Sabitzer will be partnered in the centre of the midfield. However, for this match, with the current injury crisis in the midfield, it would seem to be Sabitzer and Fred that start in the centre of the midfield.
Donny van de Beek is out for the remainder of the season and Christian Eriksen is out until closer to the end of the season and Scott McTominay is likely to be out until next week, unless there has been some good news regarding his fitness. It would mean that aside of Fred and Sabitzer, the only other options Ten Hag has is Zidane Iqbal and Kobbie Mainoo, who are largely inexperienced in the Premier League but certainly players for the future.
I think Sabitzer has done well for United in the last few matches following his loan spell from Bayern Munich which was completed last month. In a few weeks time, he will be settled at the club and up to speed with the plans for the club and the methods of the manager. There is a chance that he could sign for United permanently in the summer. He and Fred can do a job for United against Leicester but they will need to be at the top of their game.
Attacking Midfield: Sancho, Fernandes, Rashford
Jadon Sancho could keep his place on the right-wing for United against Leicester. It is important that he continues in his development and pushed to inspire for United. It is great that he is back on the pitch following three months out of action but he will need to push himself to reach the dizzy heights that he reached at Borussia Dortmund, which is the form he should be showing for United. He has four goals and one assist for United so far this season.
Bruno Fernandes is a baller for United but he is kind of off the boil at the moment. He was involved in the goals against Barcelona on Thursday evening and he will be pushing himself to provide more for United this season. He has seven goals and six assist for the club so far this season and knows that he is capable of doing more. He captains the club with Harry Maguire off the pitch, which could be a permanent thing for United. Fernandes is an inspiration for United.
Marcus Rashford is the man of the moment for United. He just keeps scoring the goals and Ten Hag is pleased with what he has done for the club this season. 22 goals scored and seven assists gives him 29 goal contributions this season add to the 11 goals and seven assists from both Sancho and Fernandes, that gives this trio a total of 33 goals and 14 assists – 47 goal contributions. United should be scoring more goals and Rashford could lift the spirits of both Sancho and Fernandes.
Wout Weghorst is a player that has been trying to score goals, missing a one-on-one challenge with Marc-André ter Stegen against Barcelona at the Camp Nou on Thursday evening. It was an embarrassing miss for United and could, at least on hindsight, have been the goal that put United ahead in the fixture. However, it was not meant to be. Many will criticise the Dutchman but his work rate has been fantastic and he does things to create space for other attacking players.
If he was not at United this season, with the injury proneness of Anthony Martial, United would not have a recognised striker on the pitch and would be playing Rashford out of his favoured left-wing position which may not have worked as well for him this season. Weghorst plays his part on the pitch and will be seeking to add to his one goal and one assist so far this season. It has been a short space of time for the Dutchman to rise to the challenge of United.
United will no doubt need to bring in a new long-term striker that will bag the goals for the club from next season as it seems clear that Martial is not the man for United – whether he is retained by the club, who knows. Time will tell. Weghorst will continue to be picked for United as the balance of the team is good when he’s on the pitch. I am sure that before his loan spell at United is over this season, he will have more goals in the bag – United are banking on hims to do just that.
Substitutes: Butland; Lindelof, Maguire, Malacia; Iqbal, Mainoo; Antony, Pellistri, Garnacho
After being allowed to have 12 substitutes on the bench in the UEFA Europa League, United will be back to just nine in the Premier League – although it will not make much difference as United had ten on the bench against Barcelona because of injuries etc to the larger squad. Just one player came off the bench and that was Alejandro Garnacho. Jack Butland was involved in the squad for the first time against Barcelona and he could be on the bench for United against Leicester.
In defence, which is where United seem to be the strongest, at least strength in depth, I would expect to see Victor Lindelof, Harry Maguire and Tyrell Malacia on the bench with Aaron Wan-Bissaka getting a rest as it seems likely, unless Dalot does well against Leicester, that he will start against Barcelona at the Theatre of Dreams on Thursday evening. This will give United enough on the bench in terms of defensive ability and Lindelof could come on and do a midfield role late on.
In the midfield, with injuries it seems likely that Zidane Iqbal and Kobbie Mainoo could be the only midfielders available against Leicester. United could welcome McTominay back next week, which would add more experience to the bench. In an attacking sense, Antony, Facundo Pellistri and Alejandro Garnacho could all be on the bench against Leicester. It could well be that Antony starts – providing he is passed fit prior to the final training session before the match.
Written by John Walker