When Manchester United saw off Leeds United in a thrilling 6-2 victory last season at Old Trafford, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer decided to take Leeds’ high-octane and relentless counter-pressing system and use it against them. He fought fire with fire.
As Old Trafford awaits the return of a 75,000 attendance this weekend, Solskjaer has a similar decision to make – does he stick or twist with a Leeds-like approach, or rely on the class in the squad already in order to see off Marcelo Bielsa’s side?
Last term’s opener saw an under-prepared United side fall to Crystal Palace in a 3-1 victory for the Eagles; inadequate preparation could see United in line for a similar shock in Saturday’s kick-off.
GK - David de Gea
It was a difficult end to last season for the Spaniard after his awful penalty condemned the Red Devils to a runners-up medal in the Europa League final, but David de Gea will get the nod over Dean Henderson on Saturday given the Englishman recently tested positive for COVID-19 and is still recovering.
He will receive a chance in the early portion of this campaign to tie down the number one spot – but De Gea will need to impress if he wants to ward off Henderson, or even new arrival Tom Heaton, who has impressed in his pre-season outings this year.
RB – Aaron Wan-Bissaka
CB – Victor Lindelof
Though Raphael Varane has recently been signed, a lack of training time means that the new Sweden captain will surely get the nod over Varane. Victor Lindelof improved his game last season but still has question marks over his defensive ability; his positioning in particular.
CB – Harry Maguire
There is little question that Harry Maguire will be the first name on the team sheet, especially after a tremendous summer for England. He will benefit from Varane’s arrival and the improvement in Luke Shaw. A super header against Everton in their final pre-season match will also boost the captain’s confidence ahead of opening day.
LB – Luke Shaw
If Maguire is the first name on the team sheet, then Luke Shaw will not be far behind. Another man who had a great summer for England, Shaw improved his game mightily last season and has proven his worth to United, who were tempted to replace Shaw last summer with the arrival of Alex Telles.
CM – Fred
While the partnership of Nemanja Matic and Donny van de Beek may provide more balance to the United midfield, the energy of Fred means he wins the spot over Matic, especially against a similarly energetic opponent in Leeds.
CM – Scott McTominay
The hard-working Scott McTominay won praise in last season’s clash with Leeds, and Solskjaer’s trust ensures that McTominay will no doubt be involved this time around.
While United have discussed using a 4-3-3 system this year, McTominay has proved himself to be a key part in whatever system Solskjaer wants to use – and regardless of how United line up against Leeds, McTominay will likely be a part of it.
RW – Mason Greenwood
This summer was exactly what Mason Greenwood needed. While he may have wondered what might have been if he had been involved in England’s losing effort in the European Championship final, a well-needed rest will have given Greenwood adequate time to recover and prepare for the new season.
A forward of Greenwood’s tender age is still at risk of burning out or aggravating injuries that will trouble him long-term, but it is likely that with both Edinson Cavani and Marcus Rashford absent, Greenwood will start as a right-forward for United.
AM – Bruno Fernandes
The twenty-six-year-old needed a rest after playing nearly sixty games for the Reds last term, and United’s main creative threat will enjoy a return to Old Trafford.
Given that he has only played in front of fans for two months as a United player, he might even hear his chant for one of the first times.
LW – Paul Pogba
He still hasn’t lived up to the £90m fee paid for his services five years ago, but he enjoyed somewhat of a resurgence last year when deployed on the left – and he will be able to use his strength and ball-playing ability on the wing against a technically-strong Leeds side.
ST – Anthony Martial
It has to be last-chance saloon for Anthony Martial now. This season will be his seventh in United red, and he’s played like a top-class centre-forward in one campaign.
It simply isn’t good enough for the Frenchman, but with Cavani and Rashford out of action, Martial will be the one to lead the line for United in their opener.
He is clearly immensely talented, and has all the attributes to become a world-class player, but time and patience is running out with the former European Golden Boy.