Manchester United return to Premier League action against Leicester City at Old Trafford on Saturday – almost three weeks after the club exited from the UEFA Champions League after a 2-1 aggregate defeat at the hands of Atletico Madrid.
Ralf Rangnick’s team will need to win their remaining matches in the league this season in order to have a good chance of finishing in the top four, earning Champions League football next season. United have fallen to sixth in the league ahead of this match.
Tottenham Hotspur sit in fifth, a point ahead of United after 29 matches have been played by both. Arsenal sit in fourth, four points ahead of United still with a match in hand (playing 28 matches so far). It will be a tough task for United to reach fourth this season.
That said, Arsenal will face Spurs, Chelsea, United and West Ham during the run in this season, also facing Everton and Leeds United, who are in a relegation battle. Spurs will face Arsenal and Liverpool in their run in with United facing Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea in their run in.
Previous meetings with Leicester and their connections with United.
United and Leicester have met 31 times in the Premier League. United have won 19 times, drawn eight times with the Foxes winning four times. United have scored 65 goals, winning four penalties and scoring three of them. Leicester have scored 30 goals, winning two penalties and scoring both.
United have kept 14 clean sheets with the Foxes keeping just two. Discipline has been an issue with United players receiving 41 yellow cards and one red card and Leicester players being shown 35 yellow cards and three red cards. United must win this match.
John Curtis, Mark Robins, Danny Drinkwater, Matty James, Ron-Robert Zieler, Colin Gibson, John Doherty, Robbie Savage, Keith Gillespie, Ritchie De Laet, Tom Cleverley, Jonny Evans, Tom Lawrence, Michael Keane, Jesse Lingard, Nick Powell, Danny Simpson have played for both clubs.
Harry Maguire is the most recent transfer between the two clubs with the England defender signing for United in an £80 million deal during the summer of 2019. The United captain is subject to a lot of criticism at this time and was booed whist playing for England in the past week.
Here is my predicted starting XI to face Leicester in the Premier League at Old Trafford on Saturday evening…
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
David De Gea will most likely keep his place agains Leicester after sitting out the international break, although Dean Henderson is in the same position. The Spanish goalkeeper has been intrinsic to United’s results this season but they need to be much better.
The experience that De Gea has in the Premier League should see United routing a challenge for a top four position, taking on both Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, although West Ham United are not out of the running yet, despite being two points behind United, also playing one more match.
It is important that De Gea continues in these important matches but if United end up losing, the chances of finishing in the top four will be almost gone and if that happens, it would be time to look at the future and give some of the younger players a chance, including Henderson.
Defenders: Diogo Dalot, Raphaël Varane, Harry Magire, Alex Telles
United’s defence has had a lot of money spent on it post-Sir Alex Ferguson but they seem no better for it. Against Leicester, I think that Diogo Dalot and Luke Shaw should both start in the fullback positions. It will enhance the attack, especially with Jamie Vardy out of action for Leicester.
Raphaël Varane should start alongside Harry Maguire in the centre of defence, which should put the maximum experience on show for United. There will be options on the bench but these two need to work together and show that United has something to fight for this season.
If that does not work, the future is something that could change much of the defence heading into next season when another new manager is set to arrive at the club with another new dawn on the horizon. Blooding in youth, in these positions could be good if United has nothing to play for.
Midfield Three: Scott McTominay, Paul Pogba, Bruno Fernandes
The midfield is great on paper but in reality, it needs lots of improvement. Scott McTominay is perhaps the best player to operate in the defensive area of the midfield, although Nemanja Matić still has something to offer. The likes of Charlie Savage could be good for the remainder of the season.
Paul Pogba is a player likely to leave the club as a free agent, for the second time in his career and his individual performances have not been the best recently, especially in the fact he tires in the second half. He needs to perform to keep his place in the squad for the remainder of the season.
Bruno Fernandes is a player that has shown his frustration in the past few weeks and you can see that it was annoying for him that United have not really risen to the occasion. After scoring twice for Portugal against North Macedonia, achieving a place in the World Cup, he will be up for this match.
Forwards: Jadon Sancho, Cristiano Ronaldo, Anthony Elanga
United’s attacking line was one of the best in the Premier League on paper at the start of the season but it just has not worked out. Cristiano Ronaldo is the clubs top scorer this season with 18 goals and he will be seeking to score more before the end of the season.
Jadon Sancho is a player that has risen his form in the latter stage of the season, which was good to see. He has five goals and three assists so far this season and will be seeking to get more in a bid to prove himself for the new manager who will arrive in the summer.
Anthony Elanga has risen from U23 football to first team level and at this time is a better option that Marcus Rashford, whose form has been terrible. His three goals have all been important this season. Alejandro Garnacho could be a good option to add before the end of the season.
Substitutes: Dean Henderson; Victor Lindelöf, Phil Jones, Aaron Wan-Bissaka; Fred, Nemanja Matic, Charlie Savage; Marcus Rashford, Alejandro Garnacho
Just as the number of substitutes in the Premier League was announced to be changing to five from the start of next season, Rangnick will still have to make do with the three that he has for the remainder of the season. This is damage limitation for United.
Dean Henderson, Victor Lindelöf, Phil Jones and Aaron Wan-Bissaka might be on the bench in terms of the additional goalkeeper and the defenders, which will add something for United should they need to restructure defensively.
In the midfield, Fred, Nemanja Matić and Charlie Savage could be utilised – using youth ahead of players who have not future at the club would be ideal right now. In attack, Marcus Rashford and Alejandro Garnacho should be available with the latter seeking to lay a foundation for the future.
Written by John Walker