Manchester United will be raring to start their 2021/22 campaign on a strong note when they face Leeds United at Old Trafford on Saturday.
The predictions are in. The squads are nearly set. The 2021/22 season is upon us and it all starts on Friday, with Arsenal taking on Premier League new boys Brentford. On Saturday, the actions kicks off at Old Trafford, where Manchester United will play hosts to Leeds United, hoping to being their campaign on a high.
Manchester United have made definitive progress under the tutelage of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who has guided the Red Devils to back-to-back top four finishes. The first trophy might still be eluding them, but United appear to be on the right track, especially after a summer transfer window that has seen them sign two world class players in Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane.
Leeds United, like Manchester United, have been busy in the transfer market this summer, signing several players, although only a fraction of those will be regulars at first-team level. As for matters on the pitch, the Whites will look to build on a ninth-placed finish in the Premier League last term, with Marcelo Bielsa, who has recently renewed terms with the club, looking to take his team closer to the European places.
The corresponding fixture last season was a goal fest, with Manchester United cruising to a 6-2 win over Leeds United. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.
Team News & Tactics
💬 "We've had a good pre-season, the last couple of weeks have been really good with everyone back in," says the boss.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) August 13, 2021
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a myriad of issues on the team news front ahead of the visit of Leeds United. On Saturday, the Manchester United manager will be bereft of the services of as many as eight first-team players due to illness of injury-related absence.
The major absentees for Manchester United is Marcus Rashford, who is sidelined for at least a couple of months after undergoing a shoulder surgery. In addition, Edinson Cavani is another key player who misses out after being afforded extra time off after his participation in the Copa America.
The remaining absentees are Dean Henderson, Alex Telles, Phil Jones, Eric Bailly and Jesse Lingard, while Raphael Varane is unavailable as his signing is yet to be formally completed. In some good news, though, Jadon Sancho could feature despite only beginning training recently, with Solskjaer iterating that he has settled in quickly at Carrington.
Sancho, though, is unlikely to feature from the kick-off, meaning Mason Greenwood will likely be deployed on the right flank, with Paul Pogba starting on the left wing. Anthony Martial, who is raring to go after a difficult 2020/21 campaign, will lead the line for Manchester United against Leeds while Bruno Fernandes will reprise his usual no. 10 role.
In the middle of the park, Nemanja Matic could get the nod alongside Fred after appearing to be rather sharp in pre-season games. As for the defensive unit, the regular faces will take their places, with Victor Lindelof pairing up with Harry Maguire at the heart of the Manchester United backline in the absence of Varane. Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka will be the two full-backs, with David de Gea a certainty in goal.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): de Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw; Matic, Fred; Greenwood, Bruno Fernandes, Pogba; Martial
Unlike his counterpart in the Manchester United dugout, Marcelo Bielsa barely has any fitness troubles hampering his preparations ahead of the trip to Old Trafford. On Saturday, the Leeds United boss will have to make do without just a couple of players.
The only players that are unavailable for the Whites are Diego Llorente (knee) and Adam Forshaw (match fitness). As for the good news, Junior Firpo and Jamie Shackleton are available after overcoming their respective knocks to be at Bielsa’s disposal.
Firpo, who has recently been full of praise for the work done during training sessions at the club, should be named in the starting lineup straightaway, making his Premier League debut for Leeds from the left-back slot. On the opposite flank, Luke Ayling is a certainty, with Robin Koch and Liam Cooper forming the central defensive partnership. In goal, there is no looking past Illan Meslier.
Up ahead in midfield, Kalvin Phillips will pull the strings from a deep-lying position while also bringing the energy to snuff out attacks higher up the pitch. Raphinha and Jack Harrison will be the two wide men for Leeds, with Stuart Dallas and Rodrigo Moreno being the attacking midfielders who will provide support to the central striker, Patrick Bamford.
Probable Lineup (4-1-4-1): Meslier; Ayling, Koch, Cooper, Firpo; Phillips; Raphinha, Rodrigo, Dallas, Harrison; Bamford
- Manchester United and Leeds United are set to face off in their season-opening top-flight league matches for the first time since 1970/71, with Leeds winning 1-0 at Old Trafford with a goal from Mick Jones ahead of finishing runners-up in the league that season.
- Leeds are without a win in their last 16 league visits to Old Trafford against Manchester United (D6 L10) since a 1-0 win in February 1981, losing 6-2 there last term. Leeds have played more Premier League matches at Old Trafford without winning than any other stadium (13).
- Manchester United lost their first Premier League match last season, losing 3-1 at Old Trafford to Crystal Palace. They have not lost their opening top-flight match in consecutive seasons since 1972/73 and 1973/74, going on to be relegated in the latter season.
- After going 14 consecutive top-flight seasons without losing their opening match between 1990/91 and 2003/04, Leeds suffered a 4-3 defeat against Liverpool last season. They last lost their first top-flight league match in consecutive seasons in 1980/81 and 1981/82.
- No stadium saw the back of the net being found more than at Old Trafford (66) last season. Leeds United’s away games also saw more goals being scored than in any other teams’ is the Premier League (67).
Player to Watch
All eyes will invariably be on the soon-to-be debutant Jadon Sancho. However, the 2021/22 season is likely to be the making of Mason Greenwood. Often hailed as a long-term solution in attack for Manchester United, the teenage prodigy has been carving out a place for himself at Old Trafford over the last couple of seasons.
2020/21 proved to be a topsy turvy campaign for him, but Greenwood ended the season on a strong note. Now is the time for him to step his foot on the pedal and become a first-choice option for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, especially with Anthony Martial struggling last term while Edinson Cavani is in the twilight of his career. Will Greenwood make it count?
Manchester United 3-1 Leeds United
This is a game that promises to deliver some goals. It might not be as exciting a contest as the one played at Old Trafford last season, especially with Leeds becoming a much more sensible team on the defensive front. However, with Jadon Sancho coming off the bench, fireworks can be expected from Manchester United.
In addition, Bruno Fernandes and Mason Greenwood appear to be in fine touch whereas Anthony Martial is intent on righting the wrongs of last season. As for Leeds, they will certainly be in business, potentially troubling Victor Lindelof a fair bit, although David de Gea is likely to play his heart out in the absence of Dean Henderson. With all that in mind, The Hard Tackle predicts a 3-1 win for Manchester United.