After a poor start to the season, pressure is beginning to build on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who needs to turn things around and prove he’s still the right man for the job. It won’t be easy, however, as Leicester will be looking to cement themselves as genuine top four challengers with a win over United.
After a dream start to the campaign, the Red Devils have struggled, only picking up two points in their last three games. Their most recent match was against Southampton, as United travelled down south to St Mary’s Stadium a fortnight ago.
They got off on the right foot, taking the lead in the opening ten minutes of the contest. Scott McTominay carried the ball up the pitch on the counter before finding Daniel James on the wing. The Welshman then cut inside, getting into space and curling a shot into the top corner. It was an unstoppable effort, sending the away fans into scenes of celebration.
United kept the pressure up following the goal, dominating the early stages of the matchup. James came close to grabbing a brace, but had two shots from distance saved.
Southampton eventually grew into the game, and would make the most of their spell on top, equalizing through Jannik Vestegaard. A corner wasn’t properly cleared by United, with Kevin Danso picking up the ball on the wing. There was no pressure put on the cross, and Vestergaard rose highest to head home from close range.
The Red Devils caught a huge break with fifteen minutes to go, as the aforementioned Danso was sent off after being shown a second yellow card. However, United would not capitalize on their man advantage, creating little at the end of the contest. Southampton would hold on for a crucial point in their fight for Premier League survival, while United were forced to deal with more dropped points on the season.
Leicester are in much better form going into Saturday, currently riding a two match win streak, with their latest victory coming against AFC Bournemouth at the King Power Stadium.
Jamie Vardy, who has had a hand in nine goals in ten games against United, opened the scoring for the hosts in typical fashion, getting onto a long ball played in behind before delicately chipping the onrushing keeper.
The lead would not last for long, however, as Bournemouth equalized through Callum Wilson only a few minutes later. Ryan Fraser picked out the Englishman with a clever pass into the penalty area, and Wilson made no mistake with the finish, finding the back of the net from a tight angle.
Leicester would go back in front before halftime, with Vardy turning from goalscorer to provider. He got free down the wing before hitting a low pass across goal to Youri Tielemans, who just had to tap it in from a few yards out.
Vardy would put the game to bed with about twenty minutes to go, grabbing his brace and the Foxes' third of the afternoon. Pouncing on a defensive miscue from Bournemouth, Vardy was able react quickly to get a first time shot off that rolled into the bottom corner.
Leicester were able to secure all three points with relative comfort, moving all the way up to third place in the league with the victory.
Last time out
United were flying high under then interim boss Solskjaer when these two sides last faced off. They travelled to the King Power Stadium with plenty of momentum, winning ten of their previous eleven games in all competitions. Leicester, on the other hand, were struggling under Claude Puel, but had just picked up a shock point away to Liverpool.
The Red Devils kept the good times rolling early on, grabbing a quick goal in the opening ten minutes of the contest. Paul Pogba won the ball in midfield, looked up, and dinked a pass over the top of the Leicester backine. It picked out the run of Marcus Rashford, who took an exquisite first touch before rifling a shot into the back of the net.
United controlled the rest of the first half, and almost doubled their advantage minutes before the break. Rashford found space on the top of the area and smashed a shot from distance, but it was hit straight at Kasper Schmeichel, who made the simple save.
Leicester were much better in the second half, carving out a number of chances. However, the likes of Vardy, James Maddison, and Harvey Barnes just couldn’t find the back of the net. United managed to hold on to all three points, continuing Solskjaer's magical start to his tenure.
The hosts head into the match having been hit by somewhat of an injury crisis during the international break.
Long-term absentees Eric Bailly and Timothy Fosu-Mensah, who are both still dealing with knee injuries, will be on the sidelines for the foreseeable future. Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, and Aaron Wan-Bissaka all pulled out of international duty during the break, and are likely to miss the game at Old Trafford.
Meanwhile, there is not a lot of optimism surrounding the likes of Anthony Martial, Luke Shaw and Diogo Dalot, who are all likely to be missing, too.
All eyes will be on United record signing Harry Maguire as he lines up against his former teammates for the first time since departing the East Midlands.
There’s not much to report on for the Foxes, who are still without Daniel Amartey and Matty James, as both players continue to recover from their respective long term injuries. Skipper Wes Morgan could be in contention again after recovering from a thigh inury.
Manchester United: De Gea; Young, Lindelof, Maguire, Jones; Fred, McTominay, Matic; Mata, James, Rashford.
Leicester City: Schmeichel, Pereira, Evans, Soyuncu, Chilwell, Albrighton, Tielemans, Ndidi, Maddison, Barnes, Vardy.
What to watch for
The Rashford conundrum
If Martial is able to return to the team, he’ll likely start up top at striker. When the Frenchman does play, that usually means Rashford goes to the left wing, but United might have a better option to turn to against Leicester.
Daniel James has been the player of the season so far, excelling on the left hand side. Constantly cutting in onto his stronger right foot, the summer signing has already scored twice in similar fashion, curling one into the opposite corner.
It was more of the same during the international break, as he grabbed another goal for Wales in a friendly versus Belarus. He’s the man of the moment, and should get to play in his preferred position on Saturday.
That leaves Rashford in a tough spot, as his two best positions are taken. He’s played on the right wing in the past, but that never ended well. The Englishman constantly drifts centrally, leaving the endline empty while making United way too compact. His lack of defensive ability means he can’t drop too far deep, so the only other option remaining would be the attacking midfielder spot.
That possibility is certainly interesting. There’s some reason to believe it could work, as Rashford posses the workrate and technical ability required of the position. It would also allow him more space on the edge of the area, meaning more chances to take shots from distance.
However, the flaws in his game could lead to disaster. The Englishman tends to hold onto the ball too long, which would really slow down the United attack that prefers to play quickly on the counter. Rashford won’t track back as much as others, either, putting more defensive pressure on the likes of Pogba and McTominay.
All things considered, it might be time for Solskjaer to drop Rashford to the bench. It would be a good reminder to the 21-year-old that his place in the team isn’t guaranteed, motivating him to get back to his best.