King Power Stadium, Leicester
21 September 2014 1230 hours UTC
Two clubs on equal points separated by goal difference go up against each other when Manchester United travel to Leicester City on Sunday.
Team news and tactics
Loius van Gaal’s side travels to the King Power Stadium to take on Leicester City in their fifth match in the PL this season. In their last outing, United were impressive as new signing Angel di Maria wove a spell around QPR at Old Trafford and even scored one of the four goals that United scored against QPR without reply. United will be keen to replicate the performance from last week and not let it go down as a flash in the pan or false start as was the case last year on more than one occasion. One of the hallmarks of United’s game under Sir Alex had been to enter the field of a play against weaker opposition with the attitude that the victory was a foregone conclusion. This was less complacence or arrogance and more confidence that they could clear the hurdle. And more often than not they did. Any team in the middle of the table dreaded the trip to Old Trafford, in fact, in a way giving up even before the match had started. All that changed last season when, under David Moyes, Manchester United fell at Old Trafford to a string of sides that had failed to win anything in the past many years at the hallowed grounds. The fear and aura of playing at the Theatre of Dreams had all but dissipated as what had hitherto been a fortress looked more like a carnival for visitors. Louis van Gaal and his team’s primary objective would not only be to do better this season and hopefully qualify for the Champions League next season but also reinstate the fear factor associated with Old Trafford.
The Dutch manager has already hinted at a departure from his favoured 3-5-2 position given the embarrassment of attacking riches he has at his disposal. By his own admission, Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Radamel Falcao, Adnan Januzaj, and James Wilson were all competing for two positions. To better utilise United’s aggressiveness, LvG might in fact adopt the 4-3-3 formation.
In defense, United have been handed a boost with the return of center back Chris Smalling from injury. Phil Jones, however, is still out with his hamstring injury picked up during the international break. In spite of Smalling’s return, it is unlikely he would be directly started in the game. He would in all probability occupy the bench, provided he travels to the match itself. Luke Shaw returned from injury last week and even started the U21 game midweek for United. Yet all signs point to him again getting a place on the bench as LvG is expected to allow Rojo to continue in the left black at least for one more game, partly to ensure that Shaw is perfectly healthy to start and play the full 90 minutes at home against West Ham United next weekend. Tyler Blackett would therefore partner Johny Evans in central defense with Rafael slotting in at right back.
In midfield, Ander Herrera and Daley Blind put in a very solid performance against QPR. They played the game with an understanding that made it seem like they had been playing together for many years. Their relationship on the pitch, which is already good, can actually help bring some much needed balance to United’s midfield and in Fellaini and Carrick’s absence through injury, both the newcomers should be confident of making the cut to retain their places in the engine room. Ahead of them, Mata was impressive again against QPR, linking up well between himself, di Maria, and Herrera. He also scored a goal, bringing his tally to 2 from the season and 7 in the last 8 games he has played for the club. It would be a pity to waste this purple patch of form by putting him on the bench.
It is the attacking positions up front where LvG is spoilt for choice. After two impressive performances in his first two games, Angel di Maria is practically a certainity to start on the let side, though he would regularly cut in to the middle as he did against QPR quite often. Likewise club captain Wayne Rooney will start on the right with the license to cut in as required. There is a chance Falcao may be finally given his full debut in a United shirt as van Persie still seems to be struggling to regain match fitness but the higher probability is that RvP will get the nod to start. Adnan Januzaj, who has shown a lot of promise and in fact even scored a hat trick in the mid week game for the U21 team, would feel short changed here and it is truly unfortunate that there isn’t any space to accomodate him into the side. The only way that seems possible is if LvG plays a diamond midfield, but even in that case one of Herrera and Blind would need to be dropped and the aforementioned players have hardly done anything to warrant a relegation to the bench. Thus it would be safe to assume that young Januzaj would join Shaw on the bench biding his time and playing the odd minutes left when he is subbed on for another player and then making the most of it.
Probable XI (4-1-2-1-2): De Gea; Rafael, Blackett, Evans, Rojo; Blind; Herrera, di Maria; Mata; Rooney (c), Van Persie
The Foxes returned to the top flight after a gap of 10 years and have started their campaign in style, gathering 5 points from their first four games, a fact that gains more significance when 3 of those 4 games have been against Chelsea, Arsenal and Everton. In fact they are only two places below United in the league table separated only by inferior goal difference. Leicester City is clearly punching above their weight and manager Nigel Pearson is confident that his wards will take advantage of home conditions to trouble the big boys traveling to the King Power Stadium. Pearson has promised that his side would start positively against United and it could make a delicious contest for the neutrals for sure.
Leicester have been handed a fitness boost as Kasper Schmeichel recovers from injury to play goalkeeper against his illustrious father’s erstwhile club. Cambiasso, who impressed with his second half outing in the win against Stoke City last weekend, might also receive his home debut. Loanee Nick Powell is ineligible to participate against his parent under the terms of his loan from Old Trafford.
Leicester would like to field as unchanged a side as possible from the one that won 1-0 against Stoke in a 4-4-2 formation, one they have not diverged from in the opening 4 games. Leicester will play pace down the flanks and Riyad Mahrez on the right is also a decent playmaker so he will cut in often from there. Rojo would do well to consider this before making his own forays into the opposition half. Up ahead, David Nugent is getting into open spaces on the break while Ulloa has already had a taste of goal this season, thrice in fact. His combination play with Nugent and Mahrez can give the United defense, which has been error prone this season, a lot of trouble if United are not careful.
Probable XI (4-4-2): Schmeichel; De Laet, Morgan, Moore, Konchesky; Mahrez, Hammond, Cambiasso, Schlupp; Ulloa, Nugent
Manchester United 2 Leicester City 0
Leicester City have done very well in their opening 4 games, even managing to draw against Arsenal. That said, they might find themselves a bit out of water when pitched against United’s multi-hundred million dollar starcast. Defense would be key for both the sides since while United have a superb attack that can tear apart most Premier League defenses let alone Leicester’s, their defense has been notoriously poor, thus allowing Leicester a sliver of hope if they can get the ball to Cambiasso, Nugent and Ulloa upfront.
- United have defeated Leicester City in all 9 previous Premier League meetings between the two clubs.
- Leicester City have the poorest possession rate in the EPL at about 38%. Manchester United contrarily has the best possession rate close to 64%.
- Both United and Leicester City have 5 points from 4 games but United are 11th and Leicester City 13th in the EPL table owing to their goal difference (3 for United vs -1 for Leicester City). That said Leicester have already played Everton, Arsenal and Chelsea while United are yet to play any of the table top clubs this season.
Player to watch
Angel di Maria (Manchester United)
The Argentine midfielder arrived from Real Madrid in what is a British record signing. In two games he has already shown why LvG pitched so much money for the deal. Di Maria’s start for United has been nothing short of spectacular. He has brought a much needed guile to United’s midfield and is widely acknowledged as one of the best playmakers in the game currently. In fact, the only reason Real Madrid sold him, apart from the obscene amount of money, is probably an oversupply of playmakers, especially after they purchased Toni Kroos from Bayern. Di Maria has settled in well at United and is in fact looking happier than his Madrid days where he always had to fight Ronaldo and Bale for a starting spot. At United, he is practically an automatic selection and knowing his excellent work rate, he would be deeply motivated to reinforce the faith placed in him by his manager. If Leicester are to get anything from the game and not go down the QPR way, they will need to disrupt Angel di Maria’s game. If poor Dean Hammond in central midfield gets this unenviable task then he should be praying his benevolent angel is ready to work overtime. Cambiasso would by far be the better candidate to keep his fellow countryman quite though it would be a waste of the midfielder’s attacking skills to ask him to man mark Di Maria.