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Predicted XI: Jadon Sancho to come off the bench against Leeds United? Raphael Varane not involved though…

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Manchester United will start the 2021/22 Premier League season against Leeds United at Old Trafford on Saturday afternoon. It will be a big test for United, who did not start in the best possible way last season, falling to a 3-1 defeat to Crystal Palace at home. One thing to look at is that this fixture last season was a 6-2 victory for United with a great performance from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side. That said, the reverse fixture at Elland Road back in April was a stale 0-0 draw and a big miss for United. Last summer, the last of a pre-season was a big loss for United and the coronavirus pandemic delaying the Premier League season until the summer and both the UEFA Champions League and Europa League competitions were played in August, with the new season starting in September, a week later for United because of their participation in Europe.

The Theatre of Dreams will have a capacity around for the first time since the 8 March 2020 when United beat rivals Manchester City 2-0 through Anthony Martial and an injury time stunner from Scott McTominay which saw the Old Trafford faithful erupt as Solskjaer beat Pep Guardiola’s side once again. Leeds United will not be a pushover despite the last result between the two sides in the Premier League with United running riot over their bitter rivals and since that match, Leeds have been well drilled by manager Marcelo Bielsa, who has recently signed a new one-year contract at the club. The match will be broadcast like on BT Sport 1HD in the United Kingdom with coverage starting at 11:30 am on Saturday with the match kicking off an hour later. United may have summer signings Tom Heaton, Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane involved in this match.

Previous meetings with Leeds United and their connections with Manchester United.

United and Leeds United have met 26 times in the Premier League alone. The Red Devils have won 14 times, drawing eight times with the Yorkshire club winning the remaining four matches. United have scored a total of 41 Premier League goals against Leeds, who have scored 19 goals against United – who won one penalty, scoring it with Leeds yet to win a penalty against United. The Red Devils have kept 14 clean sheets with Leeds keeping just six. With this fixture being a Derby match between two bitter rivals, there will always be discipline issues. United players have been booked 35 times with no red cards and Leeds players have earned 50 yellow cards, also being shown two red cards. This looks to become a good match this season, with Leeds into their second year back in the English top flight and United continuing their rebuild towards the future.

Over the course of history between both United and Leeds, there have been many players who have represented both teams. From Joe Jordan, Gordon McQueen, Arthur Graham ad Alan Smith. The main players though will be Rio Ferdinand, who signed for United from Leeds in the summer of 2002 for around £30 million. He instantly became the most expensive defender in the world, at the time. Serving United for around 12 years, making 455 appearances, scoring eight goals and nine assists. He’s not the biggest name though. There is one Eric Cantona. A steal at £1.6 million, but United got him so much cheaper. The Frenchman played 180 times for United, scoring 81 goals and 62 assists and was a massive mistake for Leeds, who at the time of his transfer commencing, wanted Denis Irwin from United. He will forever be known for a Kung-Fu kick.

Here is my predicted starting XI to face Leeds United in the Premier League at Old Trafford on Saturday afternoon…

Goalkeeper: David De Gea

David De Gea started against Everton in the final pre-season match fo the summer, keeping a clean sheet on his return to the Theatre of Dreams. Over the past few weeks, it looked as if new summer signing Tom Heaton could start the season in goal for United, but the Spaniard’s return to action has put him in good stead to start against Leeds United. He has not had the bast few seasons at the club, losing form, confidence and then failing to save a single penalty in the final of the UEFA Europa League, and missing his spot kick saw United lose to Villarreal, who ended up losing on penalties to Chelsea on Wednesday evening in the UEFA Super Cup. De Gea will be seeking to take on both Dean Henderson, who is suffering from fatigue linked to coronavirus and Heaton to the number one shirt this season.

Defenders: Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Victor Lindelof, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw

The signing of Raphael Varane has not yet been completed but United will be getting ready to take on the Premier League full of confidence. However, the Frenchman’s arrival may be too late for him to start against Leeds but he should be fit enough to occupy a place on the bench with Eric Bailly and Phil Jones both likely to miss the league opener. Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw should keep their places in the fullback positions for this match, having both featured against Everton with Shaw getting an assist in the match. Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof should partner in the centre of the defence once again, which could be scuppered by Varane at some point this season. This is the strongest defence the United could field in this match but it should be enough against this Leeds side. Could United keep a clean sheet? Maybe not but they should win.

Midfield: Nemanja Matic, Donny van de Beek

The midfield is problematic this season with only Nemanja Matic in the defensive midfield position with work needed to get this team strong enough to launch a title charge. If no new midfielder comes in this summer, United could find the long and tough season too hard in these midfield positions with Fred and Scott McTominay playing together not the answer to send this team towards glory, despite them both being decent squad players. Strength in depth is what is needed to keep fatigue at bay, which also came calling for United late last season – despite the rest ahead of the Europa League final. Matic could partner Donny van de Beek in the two-man midfield against Leeds, having both played well against Everton last weekend. Paul Pogba could play a part in this match with Solskjaer needing to rely on substitutes to keep his team on top.

Attacking Midfield: Mason Greenwood, Bruno Fernandes, Daniel James

Marcus Rashford will miss the first few months of the season after going through shoulder surgery last week, which is a blow for United now, but having a fully fit Rashford in this team at the business end of the season will be so much better, after the England forward has carried various injuries through the last season and a half, or somewhat longer. Mason Greenwood could start on the right-wing, but Jadon Sancho would be the best player to start there but I think he will be on the bench and could make his Premier League debut against Leeds at some point. Bruno Fernandes, the clubs top scorer last season with 46 goals and assist (28 goals and 18 assists) if ready for the new season, scoring a great free-kick against Everton last week. Daniel James cold fill in on the left-wing with his pace a threat but his decision-making problematic and needing improvement.

Forwards: Anthony Martial

The Frenchman missed the end of the 2020/21 season with an injury which also kept him out of action for France in Euro 2020. He has overcome that injury and had a fresh trim ahead of the season season. His return against Everton was rusty, as it would have been expected to be after a long layoff but in the coming weeks, he should start to find the fitness. With Edinson Cavani’s late start to the new season after having more time off in his native Uruguay, Martial could be expected to take the strain for United’s attack, which could see Greenwood also given the nod in the striker position. Of course, when Cavani is back and United are much stronger with other players returning from injury, fitness problems and returning late from summer breaks because of competitions during the break, it is possible that Solskjaer could change formation.

Substitutes: Tom Heaton; Diogo Dalot, Teden Mengi; Paul Pogba, Juan Mata, Fred, Scott McTominay; Jadon Sancho, Anthony Elanga

The bench is where the excitement will be for the match against Leeds United. It is possible that Jadon Sancho will take up a place on the bench and could make his debut in the match, at some point – should they be needed. United are low on attacking players at this stage of the season so chances are Sancho will make his debut. Varane won’t be involved though as his move was not finalised in time. Tom Heaton could make his first appearance on the bench in the league for United, with Diogo Dalot being the final defensive player on the bench for United. Paul Pogba and Fred could offer something in midfield, if something needs to be changed with Anthony Elanga the only other attacking player on the bench, providing he is fit as he missed the Scotland training camp and the Everton match last weekend.

Written by John Walker

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