Manchester United return to action on Saturday after the season’s first international break. Pressure is mounting on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his Reds after a string of lackluster results — and it won’t get any easier this weekend when Leicester City come to Old Trafford. Here’s everything you need to know ahead of the match.
(1) August did not exactly go to plan for Manchester United. The Reds burst out of the gate with an emphatic win over Chelsea — thrashing the Londoners by four goals in Frank Lampard’s first match in charge — but haven't won since. The last two results, a last-second loss to Crystal Palace and a draw at Southampton, just aren’t good enough for a team with top-four aspirations. Dating back to last season, United have won only three of their last sixteen matches in all competitions. Oof.
(2) It’s been a rough few weeks for United on the injury front. In the last match before the break, Anthony Martial and Luke Shaw both missed out. Then, Paul Pogba withdrew from the France squad with an ankle knock that he picked up at St. Mary’s. Aaron Wan-Bissaka (back) and Jesse Lingard (illness) also returned early from England NT duty. With Eric Bailly and Diogo Dalot already sidelined, the Reds might find themselves a bit shorthanded this weekend.
(3) Speaking of shorthanded, three players also left the club in the final days of the European transfer window. Inter Milan blessedly took Alexis Sánchez (and a chunk of his massive wages) off United’s hands — albeit only on loan. Chris Smalling and Matteo Darmian also bolted for Italy. This bloated and underachieving squad just got a little smaller.
(4) Still, this international break wasn’t all bad news. Daniel James continued his scintillating form with another goal for Wales in their 1-0 win over Belarus. He’s been the bright spot for United so far this season, scoring three goals in his first four matches in a red shirt. If Martial can’t go on Saturday, James is a lock to start on the left side.
(5) Lost in Roy Keane’s latest media firestorm, the former Red dished out his thoughts on two of United’s top players while on ITV. Love him or loathe him — and the correct answer is love him — the man knows his football.
On Harry Maguire:
I think he has done okay. We were talking about how good he is on the ball, but defensively I still have one or two question marks over him. I always worry about his pace on the turn. I remember the first goal against Crystal Palace where he’s not doing the basics, covering round his other center half. Listen, he’s 26 years of age now — you’re worried if you’re pointing these things out to him.
On Marcus Rashford:
I think it’s great for any young player to learn his trade playing in a few different positions, but what he’s got to be careful of is that he doesn’t become Jack of all trades and master of none.
(6) It’s not often that a team outside the “big six” comes to Old Trafford expecting to win. But Leicester City must relish their chances to inflict even more damage on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reeling side. The Foxes are off to a strong start, unbeaten in the Premier League and through to the next round of the League Cup after topping Newcastle on penalties. Brendan Rodgers’s side sits third in the table and looks a serious contender for one of the European places.
(7) The biggest story of the weekend, though, is Harry Maguire. Leicester held Manchester United’s feet to the fire all summer long while the two sides slowly worked out a deal for the impressive center back. By the time the window closed, Maguire had traded the King Power Stadium for Old Trafford and Leicester was £80 million richer. Other than one miscue against Crystal Palace, Maguire seems the real deal. On the other hand, Leicester haven't recorded a clean sheet yet this season — a possible sign of Maguire’s absence.
(8) Still, Leicester boast plenty of star power. Rodgers got Jamie Vardy firing again and he’s notched three goals already this season. Youri Tielemans, who played there on loan in 2018/19, joined Leicester permanently for £40 million and looks an astute purchase. The club also scavenged Ayoze Perez off a rudderless Newcastle this summer, adding even more potency to an already-dangerous attack. And what more can be said about James Maddison? The kid’s a superstar. He created 100 scoring opportunities last season, making him the vital link in this Leicester machine.
(9) Under Brendan Rodgers, Leicester City look far different than the title winners of 2015/16. That team relied on a devastating counterattack, while Rodgers instead prefers methodical buildups with lots of short passes and possession. After several frustrating weeks of trying (unsuccessfully) to chart a path through low-block defenses, United should enjoy more space to work with against Leicester. Plus, Ole’s new high-press system could be quite disruptive when they build from the back.
(10) Over at ManUtd.com, Bryan Robson broke down the importance of Saturday’s match:
We have got to step it up against Leicester and put on a really good performance and get good results that will get everyone buzzing again.
I think they will be up there challenging for the top six and they will want to get back into Europe. It’s a tough game as they have some good players, but that’s the challenge for us.
If we want to be in the top four, we need to be beating teams like Leicester at home.
(11) Stat of the week: Marcus Rashford loves playing Leicester. Here’s hoping he adds to this list on Saturday.