As Manchester United prepare to take on Leicester City, Neither of the two sides would be jubilant with the season they have had so far. While United began their season in a promising fashion under new boss José Mourinho, the Portuguese suffered three consecutive defeats for the first time since 2002 following losses to Manchester City, Feyenoord and Watford. United’s League Cup win over Northampton would give them some boost, but they need to improve in the league. This season is expected to be a very tough and competitive one, and United need to make sure their early loss of points does not hurt their case later.
The Premier League champions took a while to get going. They lost their opening fixture to Hull City. They also suffered an embarrassing 4-0 loss at Anfield. However, a 0-3 win against Club Brugge in the Champions League, followed by another 3-0 win against Burnley in the Premier League would have given them some momentum. While they come into this game at the back of a 2-4 loss to Chelsea in the League Cup, Leicester would still feel they have the confidence to hurt Manchester United.
Here are five key battles that could shape the outcome of the game.
Eric Bailly vs. Jamie Vardy
The Manchester United centre-back impressed a great deal in his opening games for the Red Devils. Not only did the youngster show great composure at the back, but he also didn’t seem to need any time to adjust to the physical demands of the Premier League. The former Villarreal defender made his United debut against Leicester in the Community Shield and even earned the man of the match award. However, since his impressive performances in the first couple of fixtures, he has found the going tough, even drawing criticism with his performances against Man City and Watford. The centre-back will have to redeem himself against Leicester, where Jamie Vardy will lead the attack.
After a scintillating last season, Vardy has had a very lukewarm beginning to the season. He has scored a couple of goals but needs to become his prolific best for the champions to have a successful season. It will only help that Vardy has three goals in four career appearances against a United side and against a young defender, both of whom are going through a slight dip in form.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic vs. Wes Morgan
It did not take Zlatan Ibrahimovic too long to make his presence felt at Manchester United. The Swedish striker has already scored four times in 5 appearances and any doubts about his age and whether he could perform in England have well and truly been squashed.
Leicester captain Wes Morgan has proved to be one of the most consistent performers in the league last season, and will have to be on his toes to keep the former Barcelona star at bay.
Paul Pogba vs. Danny Drinkwater
Both these players left Manchester United in 2012. One of them has since gone on to win the Premier League, and the other has returned to Manchester United as the most expensive player ever. Pogba has shown his class in flashes but needs to put on a consistent performance over 90 minutes and make a notable difference. There have been calls to drop Wayne Rooney to accommodate Pogba in a midfield three. While it is not sure that Mourinho will pay any heed to these calls, the Frenchman needs to up his game regardless and would hope the Leicester game can be the game changer. Drinkwater meanwhile, will have to dominate the heart of the pitch, without the supremely talented N’Golo Kante who was prized away by Chelsea in the summer.
Marouane Fellaini vs. Robert Huth
Fellaini’s form has improved under Mourinho, and the player has somehow also managed to become a sure number in Mourinho’s team. Huth will have to keep Fellaini’s aggressive “elbowing” antics in check to make sure the United midfielder cannot cause damage. These two also have a little history which makes this match-up more interesting.
In the previous meeting between these two at Old Trafford at the tail end of last season, these two were involved in an aggressive confrontation. Marouane Fellaini elbowed Huth after the German tugged at the Belgian’s hair. Both subsequently received a three-match suspension for their penalty area tussle.
Chris Smalling vs. Islam Slimani
The 26-year-old centre-back was United’s most consistent player last season, but injury ensured the player couldn’t start this season. He made his first start in the Premier League under Jose Mourinho in the 3-1 defeat to Watford but struggled against the likes of Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo at Vicarage Road. The England international needs to quickly return to his defensive best as Leicester’s club record signing. With Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez not immediately playing with the same oomph they did last season, the Foxes needed some fresh blood on the pitch. He has quickly made the difference and scored two goals against Burnley in the league. The 28-year-old arrived with a goalscoring reputation and did net 27 goals in 33 league games last season for Sporting Lisbon. He has immediately justified that status. United will have to be extremely wary of the player.
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