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Starting XI: Manchester United vs. Leeds United

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The Reds and Whites reignite their rivalry Down Under

Manchester United Pre-Season Tour - Day 8 Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images

Over the weekend, Manchester United cruised to a 2-0 win over Perth Glory. The Reds dominated most phases of play, but struggled a bit to convert all of that possession into a lopsided scoreline. Up next are old rivals Leeds United. Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Wednesday’s match.

  1. Four players — Romelu Lukaku, Victor Lindelöf, Eric Bailly, and Lee Grant — missed the preseason opener with “small niggles,” but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer expects all of them back for Leeds. Lukaku’s absence drew particular attention considering Inter Milan’s ongoing interest (and his reported desire for a summer transfer). Despite Ole’s comments, don’t be surprised if he sits out again on Wednesday. If United are ready to cash in on Big Rom, there’s no need to risk him.
  2. Youth watch: Solskjaer staggered his lineups to allow most fit players (minus David De Gea) 45 minutes of game time at the weekend. That gave the traveling youngsters a solid chunk of time to impress the coaches — and, happily, they did just that. Tahith Chong nearly won a penalty, Angel Gomes got on the ball in dangerous positions, and Axel Tuanzebe came close with a header. Mason Greenwood continued to look threatening, but left several great chances begging. He hit the post, shot into the side netting, and dragged another one wide... pretty much everything but scoring. Even James Garner, making a brief cameo for the injured Luke Shaw, got in on the action. He whistled a shot into the bottom corner to cap off the 2-0 win.
  3. One player off to a strong start is Marcus Rashford. After taking over last December, Solskjaer cleared the way for Rashford to play in a central role up front, rather than on the wing. Despite an initial surge in goals, the 21-year-old tailed off badly towards the end of the season, showing a worrying dip in end product. For United to have any chance at silverware this season, Rashford must show a lot more composure in front of goal. And, against Perth, he delivered — coolly slotting home a half-chance in the box. More of that, please.
  4. Whether Solskjaer has been working his players too hard (or “too British”) in training or not, the early returns are encouraging. The Reds looked extremely fit for a preseason opener, smothering Perth with an aggressive high press. “We’ve been working hard, trying to get the front-foot press and trying to create and score as many goals as possible,” said Angel Gomes. “We’ve got very quick, direct, and pacy players and we tried to press, stay high, get everyone locked up. We did that so we could create more chances, win the ball up higher, and try to dominate the game.”
  5. Supporters are getting EXCITED about new signing Daniel James. The 21-year-old started against Perth Glory and wasted no time putting his blistering speed to good use. James ran circles around the A-League defenders and deservedly bagged his first Man of the Match honors in a red shirt. If he can continue to build on that performance in the weeks ahead, the new boy might make a far bigger impact at Old Trafford this season than anticipated.
  6. One bit of bad news: Luke Shaw suffered a hamstring injury during the second-half. “Luke felt his hamstring was a little bit tight, so there was no point taking any more risk,” Solskjaer said afterwards. The boss doesn’t seem too worried, pointing to the fact that Shaw kept running after signaling the bench about his injury. He’s already back in training, but might sit out on Wednesday as a precaution.
  7. While the coming season will be important for Manchester United, it’s probably an even bigger one for Leeds. The Whites just missed out on promotion to the Premier League in 2018/19 and are aiming to finish the job this term. After spending much of the season atop the Championship table, Leeds spiraled out of the automatic promotion places in the final weeks and then fell to Frank Lampard’s Derby County in the playoffs. That’s one downside to the Marcelo Bielsa experience: players burning out late in the season from the frenetic pace.
  8. Leeds face a transfer saga of their own with star midfielder Kalvin Phillips rumored to have one foot out the door. His potential destination changes with the wind — Aston Villa, Bournemouth, Wolves, even Tottenham Hotspur — but the Whites can ill afford to lose him. Solskjaer and Bielsa can commiserate over the difficulty of preparing for a new season with uncertainty hovering over their talismanic middlemen.
  9. Playing a Bielsa side in preseason should provide an excellent warm-up for United. The legendary Argentinian manager preaches a relentless press and non-stop direct attacks from all over the pitch. It’s the perfect opportunity for the Reds to get up to speed with this style in a meaningless friendly, rather than against Liverpool or Manchester City when it counts for real. Bielsa curiously named only a 16-man tour squad for the trip to Australia, so hopefully that doesn’t portend a more sedate approach on Wednesday.
  10. Leeds enter this week’s match with two wins from two in preseason. The Whites rolled past York City 5-0 in their opener, before needing a late goal to see off Guiseley (2-1) a day later. While United have been training Down Under for more than a week, Leeds will arrive just days before this match — with Bielsa not touching down in Australia until the night before.
  11. Any matchup between these two sides, even in preseason, remains a must-watch. “Obviously, it’s a special game for us — for both clubs and for the fans,” said Whites midfielder Pablo Hernandez. “We want to play this game in the Premier League in the future, we hope.”