Manchester United will have to be wary of Leicester City, who have made a reputation of performing against big teams, when they face each other on Sunday.
Leicester City have had a positive season but one that could have been better had it not been for a slump near the festive period. Still, the Foxes find themselves near the top half of the table. Although, they would still have liked to have a better Goal Difference than neutral (0) and be higher up the Premier League table for sure, especially with their record against the BIG SIX this season.
While Claude Puel is making it work, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is making the seemingly impossible Old Trafford job look like a cakewalk. The manager says the right things, uses the right substitutions and genuinely embodies the man he played and worked under – Sir Alex Ferguson.
It might still be early days in his tenure as the interim manager of Manchester United, but the club has a much more positive buzz around it since the baby-faced assassin’s arrival. United are undefeated under Solskjaer and drew their first game in a comeback 2-2 result against Burnley.
Their last meeting at King Power Stadium ended in a 2-2 draw, something both teams will hope to improve upon on Sunday.
We take a closer look at the two squads.
Team News & Tactics
Claude Puel has just Daniel Amartey sidelined for the Sunday fixture against Manchester United. But, the manager has January arrival Youri Tielemans to integrate into the lineup. The midfielder arrived from AS Monaco and is likely to start in a midfield three.
In defence, Harry Maguire Ben Chilwell are guaranteed to start as part of the back four. Wes Morgan could come into the lineup to partner Maguire while we could see Ricardo Pereira start on the right side. Alternatively, there could also be a start for Danny Simpson on the right, should Puel decide to field Pereira in a more attacking and adventurous role, which is unlikely for Sunday.
Wilfred Ndidi and Nampalys Mendy should accompany Tielemans in the midfield three that is expected to provide the energy and creativity to cause problems while shutting down the Manchester United buildup. The attacking trio is pretty much sorted, with Jamie Vardy leading the line as Marc Albrighton and James Maddison act as Inside Forwards or wide playmakers.
Should Puel want width on either of the wing, he could alternatively go for Demarai Gray instead of Albrighton, with the on-field shape being converted into a 4-3-1-2 lineup.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Schmeichel; Pereira, Morgan, Maguire, Chilwell; Tielemans, Ndidi, Mendy; Albrighton, Vardy, Maddison
Marcos Rojo continues to be sidelined as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer continues to deal with numerous injuries and absentees. Marouane Fellaini is confirmed to be departing for a new adventure in the Chinese Super League. But, the midfielder’s role has been rather scarce under Solskjaer.
There were doubts raised on the fitness levels of Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial. Solskjaer has confirmed that Pogba is unlikely to be carrying a knock and should be involved as usual. As for Martial, the manager said he was hopeful of Martial featuring on Sunday as the Frenchman had been working on his fitness to recover from a knock.
Chris Smalling continues his road to full fitness, which means we could see Eric Bailly start in Phil Jones’ place alongside the in-form Victor Lindelof, especially after United conceded two sloppy goals against Burnley. Luke Shaw and Diogo Dalot should populate the wide areas in defence.
The midfield has been a sure thing under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the trio of Nemanja Matic, Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba should start, especially after a little experiment almost cost Manchester United all three points against Burnley.
The Marcus Rashford winger experiment failed to an extent, which means we could see the Englishman start as the central figure on Sunday, with Alexis Sanchez and Jesse Lingard pulling the strings in the space behind him as wide forwards or in a free roaming role.
Seeing Romelu Lukaku’s re-emergence, rather as a creative presence, Solskjaer could decide to use the Belgian out wide in place of Alexis Sanchez.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): De Gea; Dalot, Lindelof, Bailly, Shaw; Herrera, Matic, Pogba; Lingard, Rashford, Alexis
1. Manchester United to win @ 2.10
2. Both Teams to Score – YES @ 1.66
1. Juan Mata to score anytime @ 5.00
1. Manchester United have scored at least 2 or more goals in eight of their last 10 matches against Leicester City.
2. Manchester United have not failed to score against Leicester in their last 21 matches in all competitions, after the 1-0 loss to the Foxes in 1998.
3. The last five league matches between Leicester City and Manchester United at King Power have produced 22 goals in total.
4. Leicester City have more points from losing positions (13) than any other Premier League side this season.
5. Juan Mata has four goals and two assists in last five appearances against Leicester City.
Player to Watch
It has to be him. Young Tielemans was a sensation before joining AS Monaco, with the Sunday opponents Manchester United one of the clubs that the Ligue 1 club had to beat in order to secure the services of the Belgian international. The midfielder’s talent though, has not really shined at Monaco, with the club itself struggling this season.
Now at Leicester, in a team that is full of players who have proven themselves worthy of being taken seriously, a good six months with the Foxes could really see him return to the pedestal he was at. Leicester have been crying out for other creative outlets, with James Maddison now being watched more by the opposition defence.
Tielemans could be the key to push Leicester into the debate of European places, perhaps.
Leicester City 1-2 Manchester United
The Burnley draw would come as a reality check for the Manchester United squad. But, the way the draw was secured would act more as a boost to the morale more than anything. For Leicester City, it is about emulating their performances against the BIG SIX on a more consistent basis. The draw against Liverpool was well deserved, which also hands them a boost going into the Sunday fixture.
Two teams where the players seem to be enjoying their soccer now, this fixture has all the makings of another classic and the timing couldn’t be more perfect. We though, expect Manchester United to prevail, solely based on the fact that United have had an easy time against the Foxes recently, except the 2-2 draw at King Power.
We expect a narrow win for the away side.