Manchester United welcome Leeds United to the Theatre of Dreams on Wednesday evening in the Premier League; the first of two meetings between the two clubs this week with United travelling to Elland Road to face them, once again in the Premier League on Sunday. United are in great form this season – winning their last 13 matches in all competitions at Old Trafford, undefeated in the last 15 at home in total. Leeds have not won in the Premier League for two months.
Erik ten Hag has rejuvenated United this season, despite the opening two matches of the Premier League season which saw United beaten by both Brighton and Hove Albion and Brentford. United’s fortunes then turned with the club rising into the top four of the Premier League, reaching the Carabao Cup final – facing Newcastle United, the fifth round in the Emirates FA Cup, facing West Ham United and the play off stage of the UEFA Europa League, facing Barcelona.
Leeds have just sacked manager Jesse Marsch and will be seeking to hire a manager that will give longevity to the club rather than a stop gap for the remainder of the season. The new manager bounce could rejuvenate Leeds but that is not going to stop United from showing their current form. Yes, Casemiro’s suspension for the next three domestic fixtures will be a big blow but Ten Hag will have in mind a way to overcome that. United will rise against Leeds.
Predicted Manchester United Starting XI – 4-3-3
Dalot, Varane, Martinez, Shaw;
Fernandes, Sabitzer, Fred;
Antony, Weghorst, Rashford
Goalkeeper: De Gea
Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea is looking to get his 179th clean sheet of his United career, taking him just one away from the record that Peter Schmeichel set for the club almost 24 years ago. The Spanish goalkeeper has been in good form this season and was again beaten in goal with Crystal Palace scoring a consolation goal on Saturday afternoon at Old Trafford. That said, United held on to win the match earning all three points this time.
De Gea was rested last week with Tom Heaton facing Nottingham Forest in the Carabao Cup as United confirmed their place in the final of the competition this season – which De Gea will most likely feature in with the club seeking to win their first trophy since Jose Mourinho managed the club in the 2016/17 season with the Portuguese manager lifting the FA Community Shield, the EFL Cup and the UEFA Europa League. Erik ten Hag will be dreaming of what could become.
It is likely that De Gea will be tested this season with Heaton likely to get more chances in goal and Jack Butland also likely to make his debut for United at some point in the not too distant future with United having played Palace twice this season and them not being involved in either domestic competition at this stage of the season. Butland could give De Gea a run for his money but that remains to be seen for the foreseeable future with him still yet to feature.
Defenders: Dalot, Varane, Martinez, Shaw
The United defence has drastically improved from the defence of the last few seasons. Raphael Varane’s signing in the summer of 2021 and Lisandro Martinez’s arrived in the summer of 2022 has allowed the Frenchman and the Argentinian to forge a great central defensive partnership which has seen United emerge as a team with both ability and steel in the defensive ranks. It seems likely that both Varane and Martinez will start against Leeds at Old Trafford.
Luke Shaw is also a player that has proved his worth at the left-back position with him starting to find his form again, which helped United the season before last, despite them failing to win a trophy. Shaw is a hard worker in this team and he offers both defence and attack for his club with both attributes required from the fullbacks. Shaw will see a challenge from Tyrell Malacia this season and next but for now, I can only see Shaw as the mainstay at left-back.
Diogo Dalot recently returned from his latest thigh injury, the same injury he returned from the FIFA World Cup with back in December. During the period of injury, Aaron Wan-Bissaka stood firm in the right-back role. It might be more likely that he starts in this match too but Dalot will need to get back into the swing of things and with United in great form right now and with Leeds in terrible form, it could well be a set of matches to get him up to speed again.
Midfield: Fernandes, Sabitzer, Fred
Ten Hag changed the format. of United’s midfield against Palace and with Casemiro suspended for the next three Premier league matches, that might be something that he sticks with against Leeds United. Bruno Fernandes has found form, getting six goal involvements in his last seven matches, scoring four and assisting twice. As the captain on the pitch, he offers United something different and with Cristiano Ronaldo no longer there, he can be the star again.
Marcel Sabitzer was signed by United for the remainder of the season on loan from Bayern Munich on deadline day last week. He made his debut against Palace on Saturday, perhaps not in the manner he wanted to with United down to ten before he got on the pitch. With Casemiro, Christian Eriksen and Scott McTominay currently out of action, the Austrian making his full debut seems likely against Leeds. He, Fred and Fernandes could forge a decent midfield for now.
Fred looks likely to be a mainstay in the United midfield for the next three Premier League matches – two of them against Leeds this week. The Brazilian has raised his game under Ten Hag this season, scoring four goals and one assist so far this season. It is just as well United have many different options in the midfield with the likes of Zidane Iqbal and Kobbie Mainoo also waiting to be tested more in the not too distant future. Ten Hag is building something good.
Forwards: Antony, Weghorst, Rashford
United need to be scoring more goals with goal difference likely to be a factor inside the top four this season. United have the lowers goal difference in the top four; +8 with Newcastle United on +22, Manchester City on +32 and Arsenal on +28. Marcus Rashford has 19 goals so far this season, also adding seven assists – 26 goal contributions. He should start against Leeds as he could get himself into the twenties for goals scored, which would be great for him.
Wout Weghorst has one goal to his name so far this season but has become a regular starter in the month he has been at the club. He adds more than goalscoring to United’s game which has seen United play a better brand of football, strengthening the attack and providing height and good holdup play. With Anthony Martial out injured once again, it would seem that Weghorst has the chance to become the first-choice striker for the club this season, which is a good thing.
Anthony has five goals and one assist to his name this season, giving this attacking like 25 goals and eight assists – 33 goal contributions so far. It may not be the best but the Brazilian has been raising his game in recent matches, seeking to threaten on goal more and find more goals. There are so-called supporters of the club that have written him off too early they will end up with egg on their faces one again. Ten Hag knows what he can get from the winger.
Substitutes: Butland; Maguire, Malacia, Wan-Bissaka; Pellistri, Mainoo; Sancho, Elanga, Garnacho
United have nine substitutes to choose from on the bench, utilising five of them in all competitions. Ten Hag used four of them on Saturday in the 2-1 victory over Palace and could well utilise all of them against Leeds this week. Jack Butland will be eligible to feature for United but it would only be a position on the bench with him untested at this point of the season, despite being at the club for a month. It is probably for the best with the form De Gea and Heaton have been in.
In the defence, perhaps the area where United have the most options at this stage of the season, Ten Hag could choose from Harry Maguire, Tyrell Malacia and Aaron Wan-Bissaka. Victor Lindelof is fine but I think he could be rested and perhaps replace Maguire in Sunday’s match against Leeds. The midfield could see just Facundo Pellistri and Kobbie Mainoo this week, although Zidane Iqbal will also be available – that is it for United though in this area.
In attack, United could see Jadon Sancho on the bench again, waiting for his second appearance of 2023 as he looks to raise him game and find his form. Anthony Elanga could also be recalled into the squad for the Leeds matches with Martial on the sidelines once again but he will need to start producing more to get on the pitch. Alejandro Garnacho will be the third attacking player on the bench. He has a chance on Saturday but Casemiro’s red saw him sacrificed too.
Written by John Walker