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Preview: Leicester City vs. Manchester United

Time to start a new winning streak

Manchester United v Leicester City - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Manchester United hope for a quick return to winning ways this weekend at Leicester City. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s remarkable 100% record came to a disappointing end on Tuesday night, with his Reds hustling to rescue a point from an opportunistic Burnley side. And it gets no easier on Sunday — Leicester just held league-leading Liverpool to a 1-1 draw at Anfield and will be full of confidence for this one.

In mid-week, Solskjaer surprised many with a rotated lineup for Burnley’s visit. Between the late scratch of Anthony Martial and a busy schedule in the weeks ahead, United’s caretaker boss made five changes to the side that defeated Arsenal in the FA Cup.

Unsurprisingly, the Reds looked out of sorts for much of the match. After a scoreless first half, Burnley took full advantage of United’s sloppy play to jump out to a 2-0 lead after the break. The men in red then launched a furious comeback — with two goals after the 87th minute — but had to settle for a single point.

Victor Lindelöf’s stoppage time equalizer marks the sixth time this season that a United player scored in the final minutes to either tie or win a match. That makes for plenty of thrilling finishes, but also lots of dropped points and near misses. Either way, this group likes to leave it late.

Solskjaer mostly looked on the bright side, praising his players for their never-say-die attitude. But the caretaker manager also acknowledged that better performances will be needed in the future. “We need to learn from this,” Solskjaer said afterwards. “We’ve got to be able to handle not winning games as well. It’s on to Leicester now.”

Despite the excitement of a late comeback, results like Tuesday’s won’t get it done. Over the last month, Manchester United clawed their way back into the top four race — only to miss out on the chance to draw level with Arsenal and Chelsea for the final Champions League spot. Maybe this point will come in handy by season’s end, but it mostly feels like a missed opportunity right now.

Anthony Martial missed out on the Burnley match after picking up a knock in training, but Solskjaer hopes that he will be available this weekend. It’s still been a pretty good week for the 23 year-old winger — on Thursday, he officially agreed to a five-year contract extension. Martial’s now signed up until 2024. With the Frenchman (hopefully) back for the trip to Leicester, Marcus Rashford should move back into this preferred central position.

On Wednesday, Leicester showed great spirit in bouncing back from an early Sadio Mane haymaker to draw with Liverpool at Anfield. Harry Maguire, the once (and future?) United transfer target, equalized shortly before the break. Although the Premier League leaders had plenty of chances, Leicester were well worth the result.

Claude Puel’s side joins Manchester City as the only league clubs to take points home from Anfield this season. Still, that match might pay dividends for Manchester United this weekend. The Foxes should enter Sunday’s match with heavy legs — and one fewer day’s rest than United. Liverpool more than doubled Leicester in terms of passes made and completed, forcing the visitors to chase the ball all over the pitch. Ninety minutes dealing with Jurgen Klopp’s gegenpressing and possession football will take its toll on any team.

“Before the game, one point at Liverpool was a good result,” Puel said. “But I don’t know if it was a fair result. It could have been better, I think.”

Leicester start slowly. Very slowly. They’ve allowed ten goals in the first fifteen minutes of Premier League matches this season — that’s 33% of their total goals allowed. Solskjaer’s United will surely look to hit Leicester early and seize control of the game.

Outside the opening quarter-hour, Leicester’s defense remains a strength. Only four Premier League clubs (Liverpool, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, and Chelsea) allow fewer goals. Whether partnered by Jonny Evans or Wes Morgan, Harry Maguire has been the backline’s anchor. Ed Woodward’s reported refusal to sanction a summer transfer for the 25 year-old English international looks more disappointing by the day.

Up top, Leicester are still trying to replace Riyad Mahrez. Jamie Vardy leads the club with seven goals and James Maddison ranks among the Premier League leaders in chances created, but Leicester’s just middle of the pack in goals scored. Both Maddison and Demarai Gray excel in the #10 position, leaving Puel with a tough choice on how to maximize his squad’s effectiveness. Whoever gets shunted out wide usually struggles to make an impact.

After an up-and-down (or down-and-up, to be more accurate) performance against Burnley, Manchester United need to set things right on Sunday. Winning at the King Power Stadium is a tough ask, but the Reds cannot afford to let the top four gap widen any further.