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Preview: Old Trafford test for Leeds United; Jadon Sancho to make his debut?

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Manchester United -v- Leeds United

Premier League

Old Trafford, Manchester

Saturday 14 August 2021, KO 12:30 BST

Referee: Paul Tierney Assistants: Constantine Hatzidakis, Neil Davies

Fourth Official: Anthony Taylor

VAR: Chris Kavanagh Assistant VAR: Lee Betts

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.

United’s pre-season was not the best with Euro 2020, Copa America and the Olympics this summer but it was much better than one match last summer before the new season.

Solskjaer side faced Derby County, winning 2-1 with Tahith Chong, no at Birmingham City on loan and Facundo Pellistri, now at Deportivo Alaves on loan scoring the two goals. A week later, after the first summer training camp at Pennyhill Park in Surrey, United were beaten 4-2 by Queens Park Rangers, which was a shock, although QPR have had some good results during pre-season. Jesse Lingard and Anthony Elanga scored the goals in that match which caused the negative so-called supporters to continue with their negative tirades against the manager – despite it being a training match. United then drew against Brentford at Old Trafford with Elanga and Andreas Pereira scoring the goals. The Preston North End match was cancelled days later because of a coronavirus scare at United which turned into a false alarm, which was a shame.

United then travelled up to St Andrews in Scotland for a second training camp of the summer, which involved the majority of the first team players who had returned after their summer breaks. This was ahead of the final pre-season match of the summer, which was played at Old Trafford, this time against Premier League rivals Everton. United started well, opening the scoring through Mason Greenwood, then minutes later, Harry Maguire scored from a header, provided by a Luke Shaw assist. Bruno Fernandes put United 3-0 up in 30 minutes and the Toffees seemed dejected. There were many changes at half time and beyond for both teams and United ended up scoring a third goal through Diogo Dalot, who looks set to remain at the club this summer, seeing United win their final pre-season match with a 4-0 scoreline – just in time to start the new season.

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.

Team News: Many players out of action for United with ten players unlikely to be involved against Leeds. The Yorkshire club have two players on the sidelines, with two more likely to come back into the squad.

United will be without a number of first team players against Leeds with Dean Henderson still suffering the effects of coronavirus, Jesse Lingard still in self isolation, Marcus Rashford recovering from shoulder surgery, Alex Telles recovering from an ankle injury and Edinson Cavani recently returning from an extended break in Uruguay. Eric Bailly and Amad Diallo were involved in the Olympics with the Ivory Coast, so will still be resting ahead of their return to the squad and Phil Jones, despite being involved in training tis summer, is still returning from a knee injury, which kept him out last season. New summer signings Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane have been involved in training and may not start for United, but could perhaps be available, despite suggestion that they may not be involved. United will still have a strong squad though.

Leeds have few problems with injury ahead of the opening Premier League match of the season with Diego Llorente out with a knee injury until the end of the month and Adam Forshaw having not played for two-years but recently playing 60 minutes. However, that does not mean he will be thrown into the deep end as his recovery will continue in the background with him eventually coming back into the team. Junior Firpo  suffered a knock, which he seems to have recovered from and Jamie Shackleton suffered a head injury, which her too has recovered from, which could see both players involved against the Red Devils at the Theatre of Dreams on Saturday afternoon. This wlll be a big match for Leeds, who would love to get one over United at the start of the season, which is a problem the club faced last summer. However, United will be determined to win.

Predicted Starting XI: Anthony Martial, Daniel James, Bruno Fernandes and Mason Greenwood to lead the attack against Leeds United. Jadon Sancho to come off the bench?

Solskjaer will be missing a number of players because of injury, coronavirus, fitness issues and because of recent returns to the squad after summer tournaments. That said, the squad still has enough players to field a strong team against Leeds. I have a feeling that Anthony Martial will lead the attack for United, flanked by Daniel James and Mason Greenwood – but I would like to see Jadon Sancho start for United, making his debut at the Theatre of Dreams. However, he has trained with his teammates this week only and is unlikely to start – unless Solskjaer has a trick up his sleeve, which could be the case. Raphael Varane has not yet been unveiled as a United player, and the deadline for that being completed to have in involved in the match day squad has passed so his debut will not happen this weekend.

I would expect David De Gea to start in goal, ahead of Tom Heaton. In defence, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Victor Lindelof, Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw should all be fresh enough to start this match. The midfield could consist of Nemanja Matic and Donny van de Beek, who both did well against Everton last Saturday, keeping Paul Pogba on the bench to come on later in the match, if he is fit enough. He could play on the left-wing, as he has done previously, but I don’t think that is the best position for him. In the three behind the striker, Daniel James, Bruno Fernandes and Mason Greenwood could be involved – I would rather see Sancho start but I wonder if his fitness levels will be good enough, only returning to training at his new club this week? Anthony Martial could lead the line in the absence of Edinson Cavani, whilst he is stepping up his fitness.

Match Prediction: United’s start to last season ended up costing them at the wrong time. Averting that same mistake with a victory over Leeds is important.

United need to win at all costs. It would be great to see the same response against Leeds as the Red Devils had against Everton in their final pre-season match last weekend. However, Leeds will be seeking to get their season off to a better start too. The Yorkshire club ended up finishing ninth last season, just two points behind Arsenal, who really suffered – which was so satisfying to match them implode and become everything their fans mocked United for being after the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson almost a decade ago. This match may not be easy at all as Leeds will dig in, like they did in the fixture at Elland Road last season, which was a lacklustre 0-0 draw. United should be seeking to become that team which destroyed Bielsa’s Leeds at the Theatre of Dreams last season, winning 6-2 which was a massive shock to the Yorkshire club.

United scored four goals against Everton last weekend in the final pre-season friendly of the summer, and despite the club lacking a few first team players, the were at good strength but clearly not ready to take on the might that was United. They may not be the same team that Carlo Ancelotti managed last season under new manager Rafael Benitez, but they should have done so much better. If Leeds allow United to get through them, in the same manner that Everton did, it could be a good opening day of the season for United. Getting a good start to the season is important as that could be where United messed up last season, along with results around January, which did not go to plan, costing them their place at the top of the league with Manchester City strolling to the Premier League title. United need to seek to be that team this season.

Manchester United 3-1 Leeds United

Written by John Walker

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copyright: JW