Manchester United vs Leicester City
Venue: Old Trafford
TV: Sky Sports Main Event
Referee: Andre Marriner
As with the 2017/18 Premier League season, Leicester City will be welcoming back the Premier League in what is an eagerly anticipated fixture away at Old Trafford, with the Foxes and the Red Devils set to contest the curtain-raiser of 2018/19’s Premier League campaign.
Rewind one year and the Foxes were preparing to visit Arsenal at the Emirates in what was an enthralling fixture ending in a 4-3 victory for the Gunners. United vs Leicester is a fixture which in many ways mirrors that of a year ago, and a game which would be worthy of kicking off any campaign. Many will be expecting goals, excitement and jaw-dropping entertainment come 8pm Friday evening in Manchester.
This is certainly a fixture in which both managers have a lot to prove. Jose Mourinho has received a lot of criticism in recent weeks and there will likely be a distinctive aura around Old Trafford as many United fans wait in anticipation as to what the upcoming season will hold. As for Puel and the Foxes, the Frenchman is perhaps surprisingly to many the favourite to be dismissed first from his post in the 18/19 Premier League campaign. Although the Leicester manager enjoyed a relatively successful season last year, their Thai owners have not been known to stick around with any manager in recent seasons and the pressure will certainly be on Puel to deliver.
Alongside the pressure on both managers, there has been varying speculation around Harry Maguire’s future after his instrumental performance in Russia. Mourinho has not been shy in his approach stating that Maguire is a top target and that he is aware that club will have to break the transfer fee for a defender if the centre half was to join his club.
Leicester have shown previously that they are no push overs when it comes to the departure of their players, and they were adamant throughout that the Sheffield born defender was set to remain with the club, and with yesterday’s transfer window slamming shut, the East Midlands outfit have stayed true to their word.
Manchester United: Romelu Lukaku, Phil Jones and Marcus Rashford all cut their holidays short to return to training and all could be in contention to begin the opening fixture. Despite this, with United having a vast amount of players present in the World Cup semi’s and final, they will be without Pogba, Lingard, Fellaini and Young who unlike their team mates decided to have their full allocation of holiday.
As for the remainder of the squad, the disruption in the camp has been highly publicised this summer. Martial was criticised for travelling to Paris for the birth of his son and there have been constant rumours of a move to Chelsea or Tottenham. With this being said, he does look likely to remain at Old Trafford, yet having not featured since the first two games of pre-season he will likely be absent.
New signing Diogo Dalot did return to training late July after having knee surgery on a minor injury. With this in mind the fixture vs Leicester on Friday night may be too soon for the youngster, however with Matteo Darmain professing his desire to leave United the 19-year-old may be present in the starting XI sooner rather than later. Dalot is not the only player who has provided Mourinho with a selection nightmare, Matic remains sidelined due to surgery and Sergio Romero is missing with a knee problem.
Leicester: Leicester are set to be without three lions team mates, Jamie Vardy and Harry Maguire who will be a considerable loss. The aforementioned has a sublime record against the top six clubs and his goal threat will be missed. Kelechi Iheanacho will be relied upon to provide the attacking threat and his pre-season form shows he is more than capable after netting four in his last three.
It would be impossible to write this preview about Leicester and not mention the departure of their star man, Riyad Mahrez. The Algerians transfer to United’s rivals for £60m will leave a gaping hole in Leicester’s outlook yet the Foxes responded by bringing in James Maddison for £24m. The latter did pick up a knock in Leicester’s pre-season fixture vs Lille but will be searching for his professional debut and will likely feature in some aspect vs United.
If Maddison is declared unfit, it maybe a new Algerian on the block at Leicester who will be given a chance. The Foxes confirmed the signing of Rachid Ghezzal from Monaco earlier in the week and the 26-year-old who spent time with Puel at Lyon will have big boots to fill after Mahrez’ glistening time in the East Midlands.
Leicester are also set to be without centre midfield paring Nampalys Mendy and Matty James as well as new signing Jonny Evans who would have provided a stability to the Leicester defence with the absence of Harry Maguire. Demarai Gray, who will be looking to mirror Riyad Mahrez this season, is also missing due to a muscular injury.
United: De Gea; Darmian, Smalling, Bailly, Shaw; Mata, Herrera, Fred, Pereira; Rashford, Sanchez
Leicester: Schmeichel; Pereira, Morgan, Benalouane, Chilwell; Albrighton, Iborra, Ndidi, Diabate; Maddison, Iheanacho
Score Prediction: Manchester United 2 Leicester City 1 – This is a difficult one to predict. Leicester will likely be without Maguire and Vardy who are undeniably two of their key players this campaign. With this being said, United will potentially be without Lukaku, Lingard and Pogba who likewise are extremely influential in their set up. I think home advantage will play out here as United have only ever lost five times to Leicester at Old Trafford spanning over 110 years, with the most recent of those losses cominh in 1998.