Old Trafford, Manchester
31 January 2014 1500 hours UTC
Manchester United prepare to welcome Leicester City at home as Premier League football returns after a one week gap to allow the domestic cup ties to be scheduled. It is after a gap of almost 11 years since the Foxes last played a Premier League fixture at this ground and much has changed since then especially for Manchester United. Gary Neville, the scorer of the solitary goal in that fixture in April 2004 has retired from football, many United stars and legends like Scholes, Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo have moved to another club or even retired and probably most important of all, Sir Alex Ferguson is no longer the manager at Old Trafford. That unenviable job now belongs to erstwhile Dutch national team manager, Louis van Gaal after having crushed David Moyes under its ominous weight. The thorn in the flesh for most United supporters would however be the 3-5 defeat that their team succumbed to at the King Power Stadium against the same opposition in September last year.
Team News, Formation and Tactics
Van Gaal’s United is admittedly more star studded than Fergie’s last few teams or even Moyes’ team in his short tenure at the club and yet LvG doesn’t have much to show for it. His wards are struggling. After sinking to English Third Division side MK Dons early in the season in a Capital One Cup fixture, United seemed to be stabilising and even managed to reach the third spot in the league table maintaining an unbeaten run of 11 games in the Premier League. The new year, however, has not worked well for United and the club are struggling to even get a shot off at goal let alone score. In the 5 games they have played this year, United have scored only 5 times and their most recent outing was an FA Cup tie against Fourth Division side Cambridge that ended in a goalless draw. This in spite of starting a side that boasted of first team players like Angel di Maria, Radamel Falcao and Michael Carrick. United’s insipid performances have been primarily due to the lack of any creative force in midfield. LvG’s preferred 3-5-2 system using three defenders at the back is still looking very dodgy and the players are holding on to possession without using it meaningfully.
While van Gaal did resort to the conventional back four against Cambridge in their FA Cup tie last week, he has publicly mentioned that he is not comfortable with the formation and odds are that he will go back to his three defender formation bringing back. This might hand a start to one of the centre backs who missed the game mid week. Evans, Blackett and McNair are all available for selection as is Chris Smalling, who would most probably be the manager’s choice for the third defender. Smalling, though not the best center back around, has shown good composure in the majority of matches he has played. He is good especially in one on one situations. Leicester would set up to defend and that means that most attacking situations would be 1v1.
Daley Blind and Michael Carrick are prime candidates to sit in front of the 3 man defence and while Blind is the more mobile of the two, Carrick’s experience and composure would have earned him the starting spot. However, Manchester United’s injury curse has struck again ruling out Carrick for four weeks with a muscle rupture thus making Blind the automatic choice for the position. The other toss up would be between Fellaini and Herrera. The Spanish player seems to have fallen out of favour with LvG and rumours range from him being a Moyes signing to simply being excluded due to Fellaini’s purple patch. For now, it does seem that Fellaini will start the game ahead of Herrera. Juan Mata who was left out for the Cambridge game might still find himself on the bench alongside Januzaj who started the Cup tie. Januzaj’s recent proposed loan move was blocked by United and that may indicate that the club does have plans for him in the immediate future. Till then the young Belgian international must bide his time on the substitute bench.
Ashley Young is still out injured and his services down the left flank would be missed. Luke Shaw, as the only genuine left back in the side, should enter the starting team in this position. Valencia will retain the opposite flank. Though his crossing is as lackadaisical as ever, he does prove to be a constant source of headache for defenders.
Radamel Falcao got a couple of good chances to capitalise with starts when Robin van Persie was out injured but failed to do so. He makes the runs and holds up the ball well too but his finishing has been a constant source of worry for him this season. Straightforward chances go a begging due to his profligacy in front of goal. James Wilson too has failed to deliver the goods though it may be a bit harsh on him considering his recent promotion to the first team. The youngster was subsituted by Robin van Persie after the hour mark. RvP seems to have completed his return from injury and should start the game on Saturday. Skipper Wayne Rooney, who was rested for the Cambridge game, too will return to the starting lineup.
Probable Lineup (3-5-2): de Gea; Jones, Rojo, Smalling; Shaw, di Maria, Blind, Fellaini, Valencia; Rooney, van Persie
Leicester pulled off a shock victory coming from 1-3 down to win the fixture at home 5-3. They would however be very cautious regarding the game on Saturday. Sitting at rock bottom of the league table, Leicester’s historic victory over United was followed by a string of 13 games without a win before the Foxes won against Aston Villa and Hull City recently. Combined with progression to the 5th round of the FA cup, Leicester will be in a general upbeat mood. Had they been slightly stronger they may have tried to go for the win but as of now, Nigel Pearson’s pragmatic option is to play for a goalless draw. This gets them a vital point away from home and also does not damage their flailing goal difference, a point that may prove crucial in the year end relegation scrap. The manager has taken a very guarded approach to the game, as such. He will be without the services of Chris Wood (ankle injury) and Riyad Mahrez (international duty at African Cup of Nations however Liam Moore and Matthew Upson have completed their return from injury.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Schwarzer; de Laet, Moore, Morgan, Simpson; Schlupp, Vardy, Drinkwater, King; Kramaric, Ulloa
- In four Premier League outings this year, United have only scored 5 goals.
- Leicester have won only one of their last 9 away games in the Premier League.
- In their last 10 meetings, Leicester have beaten United only once, in September last year.
The United skipper has had a sedate start to the new year. This is mainly down to the manager having him play in a deeper role. That does not suit his style of play and with di Maria playing ahead of him, cramps the Englishman’s more direct playing style. LvG would have realised that he is not utilising his captain’s potential to the utmost and it is expected that Rooney will start alongside van Persie at the top. Coming back after a break against Cambridge, Rooney would be eager to get things going in the goals department in the new year.
Manchester United 2 – 0 Leicester City
United are in the doldrums again with erratic form and ineffective tactics. Issues are compounded with the players not being able to adjust to the manager’s preferred formation. That said, the home side possess enough fire power, at least on paper, to beat the visiting side who are currently placed last in the league table.
Blast from the past
Less than 6 months ago, Leicester registered a famous win against Manchester United, coming from 1-3 behind to win the game 5-3 in a crazy second half.