The Premier League returns to action on Friday night, with Manchester United and Leicester City set to kick off the 2018-19 season at Old Trafford on Friday.
After what has been a frustrating summer, Manchester United will look to kickstart the 2018-19 Premier League season on a positive note, when they take on Leicester City in the opener on Friday.
The Red Devils endured an underwhelming pre-season campaign, registering just the one victory in 90 minutes that came against Real Madrid on their trip to the United States. Their last friendly game against Bayern Munich this past weekend, ended in a 1-0 defeat.
To add to the disappointing displays, they have been hamstrung by a number of key players sitting out due to their involvement in the 2018 FIFA World Cup. And to cap it all, United’s inability to add to their three summer arrivals has left manager Jose Mourinho frustrated heading into the new term.
Leicester City, on the other hand, head into the new campaign on the back of some solid displays during their pre-season. The Foxes lost just one of their five friendly fixtures, managing impressive results against the likes of Valencia and Lille along the way.
Leicester manager Claude Puel will definitely go into Friday’s fixture in a better mood than his Manchester United counterpart, given the impressive business that the club have managed to get done during the transfer window.
Team News & Tactics
Manchester United’s squad is stretched thin with injuries and fitness issues concerning returning World Cup stars heading into their opening game. Sergio Romero, Antonio Valencia, Marcos Rojo and Diogo Dalot are out through injury on Friday, as are Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic.
Paul Pogba, Ashley Young, Jesse Lingard, Marouane Fellaini and Romelu Lukaku returned to training earlier this week following their extended breaks. But, the manager is reluctant to rush them back into action, after a gruelling summer. Mourinho is likely to go in with the 4-3-3 setup he used during the pre-season fixtures.
David De Gea will start between the sticks and will hope to put behind what was a forgettable World Cup with Spain. Wantaway defender Matteo Darmian is likely to feature at right-back given the lack of options at Mourinho’s disposal, while Luke Shaw will start on the opposite side. At the heart of the Manchester United defence, Eric Bailly and Chris Smalling are expected to feature from the get-go.
With a number of regular starters in the midfield absent, new signing Fred is almost a certain starter for Friday’s game. He is likely to be partnered up by academy product Andreas Pereira, who impressed heavily in the pre-season and Scott McTominay.
Juan Mata should feature out on the right flank, after some promising displays in the pre-season fixtures. Out on the left side, January signing Alexis Sanchez is a guaranteed starter. The Chilean was one of United’s biggest positives to come out of a disappointing pre-season and he will be hoping to make a difference on Friday. Spearheading the attack will be Englishman Marcus Rashford.
Probable Starting XI (4-3-3): De Gea; Darmian, Bailly, Smalling, Shaw; Fred, Pereira, McTominay; Mata, Rashford, Alexis;
Puel is unlikely to call upon the services of striker Jamie Vardy and defender Harry Maguire, following their recent return after the extended vacations. Midfielder Matty James and Nampalys Mendy are ruled out due to injuries, Former Manchester United defender Jonny Evans is a slight doubt but is expected to be ready, along with Demarai Gray.
New signing James Maddison is expected to shake off a knock and be available for selection, while fellow summer arrivals Ricardo Pereira and Rachid Ghezzal will also be hoping to make their debuts. However, deadline day signings Filip Benkovic and Caglar Soyuncu might sit this one out.
Danish international Kasper Schmeichel is certain to start under the crossbar for the Foxes and will be hoping to carry his impressive World Cup form into the season. On the right side of the Leicester defence, Portuguese defender Pereira could be set for his Premier League debut, while youngster Ben Chilwell will slot in as the left-back. Captain Wes Morgan should pair up with Evans in the centre of the backline.
Wilfred Ndidi and Vicente Iborra are likely to form the two-man midfield axis to try and stop United from settling into any sort of rhythm. Maddison will slot in as the No.10 and look to pull the strings for the Foxes in the final third of the pitch.
The ever reliable Marc Albrighton will start out on the left flank and offer his industry and exceptional work-rate, while the dangerous Fousseni Diabate will man the right wing and look to cause Manchester United problems with his pace. Leading the line for Leicester will be former Manchester City man Kelechi Iheanacho, who has been in good nick during the pre-season.
Probable Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Schmeichel; Pereira, Morgan, Evans, Chilwell; Ndidi, Iborra; Diabate, Maddison, Albrighton; Iheanacho;
- This is only the second time in English Football League history that the top-flight season has kicked off on a Friday, and Leicester have been involved both times. The other occasion was last season, when Leicester lost 3-4 at Arsenal.
- Manchester United are unbeaten in their last seven Premier League games against Leicester City, winning four and drawing three, and have lost just one of the last 18 (W13 D4).
- Leicester City have lost on seven of their last eight visits to Old Trafford in the league (D1), scoring a total of just three goals in that period.
- Manchester United have won their opening fixture more often than any other side in Premier League history (17).
- The last time Manchester United and Leicester City met on the opening weekend of a Premier League campaign was back in 1998-99, with Man Utd coming back from 0-2 behind to draw 2-2 at Old Trafford.
1. Manchester United to win @ 1.50
2. Over 2.5 Match Goals @ 2.00
1. Fred to score anytime @ 6.00
Player to watch
Alexis Sanchez (Manchester United)
Signed amidst huge expectations from Arsenal in January, the Chilean attacker failed to hit the ground running and endured a difficult six months with the Red Devils. Having managed to net just two league goals in the second half of the last season, Alexis will go into the new season under pressure to prove his detractors wrong.
The 29-year-old has certainly looked up to the task, starring in a rather dull pre-season for Manchester United this summer. If Mourinho’s side are to start the new campaign on a high against the Foxes, a lot will be riding on the shoulders of their highest earner on Friday night.
Manchester United 1-1 Leicester City
Pressure will be on Manchester United going into the game, after what has been a forgetful pre-season campaign. The absence of a large number of regular starters is likely to affect them as well, with Alexis Sanchez and Juan Mata the only two players looking sharp enough heading into the opener.
This Leicester side, under Puel, will back themselves to have a go against the Red Devils at Old Trafford. But, it remains to be seen if they will be able to hit top gear without Vardy, who is likely to be benched, and the now departed Riyad Mahrez in their ranks.
With Mourinho involved, one can most certainly rule out another explosive opening to the new season like last year when the Foxes dished out a classic against Arsenal. However, it does promise to be a tightly-contested battle for a perfect start to the new season, which is likely to culminate with the spoils shared between the two teams.