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Starting XI: Leicester City vs. Manchester United

A Boxing Day battle between second and third

Leicester City v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Carl Recine/Pool via Getty Images

Everything that you need to know ahead of Saturday’s match:

(1) Both sides head into this lunchtime Boxing Day showdown in fine fettle. Manchester United are unbeaten in seven Premier League matches, while Leicester City have shot all the way up to second after three wins in four. Plus, the Foxes have already notched signature wins over top teams like Manchester City (5-2) and Tottenham Hotspur (2-0).

(2) Leicester City might not rank as one of the Premier League’s big six, but they could be up there soon enough. Yep, Arsenal, I'm looking at you. Unfortunately, Manchester United have only taken two points from top four rivals this season, with losses to Tottenham Hotspur and the aforementioned Gunners and bore draws with Chelsea and Manchester City. Making matters worse, those results all came at Old Trafford. On Boxing Day, the Reds travel to a top domestic rival for the first time this season.

(3) But here’s the good news: Four of Leicester’s five losses have come at home. Plus, Manchester United are road warriors — with ten consecutive away wins dating back to last season. Incredibly, the last six of those wins came after the Reds fell behind and had to rally.

(4) For the EFL Cup quarterfinal at Everton, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took the opportunity to rest David De Gea, Victor Lindelöf, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, and Luke Shaw — although the latter three did come off the bench as the Reds chased a late winner. On the injury front, Scott McTominay and Aaron Wan-Bissaka both missed out. Manchester United need both back for the trip to Leicester, as McTominay’s energy and defensive discipline could play a big role in keeping James Maddison in check while AWB locks down opposing left wingers.

(5) After the 2-0 win over Everton, Solskjaer spoke about his squad rotation:

When you win games, it doesn’t matter how you do it and you know you’ll have energy anyway. We could play tomorrow, now probably.

The players know we trust them. We have a big squad and everyone has to step up at different times in the season. It’s a big game for players who haven’t played for a while — Axel [Tuanzebe], for example, and Eric [Bailly]. They’ve not played for a while. They did really well.

(6) Brendan Rodgers occasionally comes across as a buffoonish character — no one aspires to be on the receiving end of David Brent comparisons, after all — but his time at Leicester has been seriously impressive. The Foxes had fallen into a malaise after the miracle of 2016, but it hasn’t taken Rodgers long to restore them to the top end of the table.

(7) As expected from a Rodgers side, Leicester hold a lot of possession and aim to out-pass the opposition. Where Leicester really shine, though, has been combining this staid approach with the vertical threat of Jamie Vardy. At their best, they lull the opposition to sleep with languid passing through midfield, before uncorking a through ball for Vardy further upfield. He has already bagged 13 goals this season in all competitions, putting him on pace to better last year’s tally of 23. The man ages like fine wine.

(8) In the dying moments of Leicester’s 2-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur last weekend, Jamie Vardy limped off the pitch with an apparent hip injury. It was a disquieting end to another match-winning performance — the 33-year-old scored the opener from the penalty spot and then forced Toby Alderweireld into an own goal to seal the victory. By Tuesday, though, Rodgers declared it “just a bit of soreness” and flashed Vardy the green light for Boxing Day.

(9) Leicester are still juggling a few injuries — notably right back Ricardo Pereira — but the worst appears to be over. Caglar Soyuncu might make his return from a groin injury on Boxing Day, which could allow Leicester to switch to a back three. In that case, Soyuncu would join Wesley Fofana and Jonny Evans at the back, with Timothy Castagne (himself just back from injury) at left wing-back and James Justin on the right. Or, if Rodgers prefers to ease Soyuncu back in off the bench, the Foxes could stick with their back four. Either way, Wilfred Ndidi in midfield provides outstanding protection for the backline.

(10) It didn’t take Wesley Fofana long to become one of the Premier League’s best central defenders. Signed from St. Etienne in October, the pacy 20-year-old pairs sublime physical tools with an astute football mind that allows him to always be in the right position to intercept the ball. Thrown right into the Premier League fire because of Soyuncu’s injury, Fofana hit the ground running and looks like a future star.

(11) Youri Tielemans’s time at the King Power Stadium may be growing short. Reports out of Spain suggest that Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Atletico Madrid all want the Belgian midfielder — whether in January or next summer. Tielemans is an irreplaceable piece of the Leicester machine, so the club won’t give him up without a fight. Plus, it remains to be seen whether any of the La Liga powerhouses even have the money to tempt Leicester into a sale. Imagine reading that sentence a decade ago.