When Leicester City travel to Old Trafford on Saturday to square off with Manchester United, the visitors will likely be playing in a tenser atmosphere than an ordinary Late-September fixture would attract. However, after the rough last couple of weeks enjoyed by Jose Mourinho’s men, the Foxes will be walking into a cacophony of 76,000 voices desperate to see United right the ship in league play.
Pressure on Mourinho’s troops
United have spent the last week and a half looking at ugly tabloid headlines after a three-game losing skid. They were beaten by noisy neighbors Manchester City 2-1 at Old Trafford and Watford 3-1 at Vicarage Road either side of a 1-0 defeat to Feyenoord in the Europa League. For many supporters, the defeats evoked memories of the Louis Van Gaal and David Moyes eras, when players looked lethargic and as though they’d rather be anywhere but out on the pitch.
The losing streak was halted on Wednesday night when the Reds beat Northampton Town 3-1 in the EFL Cup to set up a fourth round tie with City at the end of October. Yet, the victory was far from straightforward—United went ahead only to concede just before half time, and needed to wait until the 68th minute mark to go ahead for good. While the win was appreciated, a visit from the Champions will prove a far tougher test.
Foxes off to slow start as well, but heating up
Leicester’s title defense did not get off to a dream start; they accrued a meagre four points from their first four league fixtures. However, victories over Club Brugge in their first ever Champions League match and Burnley in the league seem to have righted the ship. While defeat after extra time to Chelsea in the EFL Cup on Tuesday was a disappointment, the Champions have been playing far better as of late.
Crucially for them, Riyad Mahrez appears to have rediscovered last season’s form. He was on fire against Brugge in the Champions League and before looking superb again against Burnley.
While United will feel a bit of pressure on Saturday, this fixture carries nothing like the importance it did last spring when Leicester headed to the Theatre of Dreams knowing a victory would clinch them the title. A Wes Morgan header that day was enough to cancel out Anthony Martial’s opener, leaving both sides relatively content with a point. Leicester’s contentment turned to sheer, unadulterated joy the following day when Tottenham drew at Stamford Bridge to clinch Leicester’s crown.
The scoreline was the same earlier in the year when the two met at the King Power Stadium. Jamie Vardy broke Ruud Van Nistelrooy's consecutive game scoring record early in the first half when he made it 1-0 to the Foxes before Bastian Schweinsteiger equalized on the stroke of half time.
The biggest piece of team news for United is that Martial will miss out due to heavy bruising on his calf and ankle. While Phil Jones is also out, Luke Shaw and Henrikh Mkhitaryan have recovered from their respective groin and thigh injuries and could play a part on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Kasper Schmeichel is a doubt due to a muscle strain, though he has overcome his recent concussion issues. However, Nampalys Mendy is not ready to return from injury yet, and Marcin Wasilewski will also be out due to his red card against Chelsea.
Herrera to keep his place
Ander Herrera’s terrific performance at the Sixfields on Wednesday means he’ll likely partner Paul Pogba in midfield. The Spaniard was brilliant during midweek, scoring once and constantly driving his side forward.
While there have been many clamoring for Wayne Rooney to be dropped, it’s unlikely that will happen give that Martial has been ruled out. Expect Rooney, Juan Mata and Marcus Rashford to be operating in the space behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Manchester United: De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Smalling, Shaw; Pogba, Herrera; Mata, Rooney, Rashford; Ibrahimovic.
Leicester City: Schmeichel; Fuchs, Huth, Morgan, Simpson; Albrighton, Drinkwater, Amartey, Mahrez; Vardy, Okazaki.