United will have to dig deep against Leicester City this weekend.
The first of three early-season international breaks has been and gone. Therefore, our attentions turn back to the Premier League as Manchester United are tasked with taking on an impressive Leicester City to get their season kick-started.
The Reds’ start to the season can’t really be described as anything better than middling with just one win, two draws and a defeat. The mission of getting points on the board is not set to get any easier this weekend as Brendan Rodgers brings his young side to Old Trafford.
Further complications arise when we look to the amount of players occupying the treatment room at Carrington. Aaron Wan-Bissaka was forced to pull out of the England squad as was Jesse Lingard a few days later. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said in his pre-match press conference that the pair were the only ones with a chance of making the squad for Saturday, of those that have been injured.
That means that United are set to be without Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial and Luke Shaw plus the likes of Diogo Dalot and Eric Bailly whom were already sidelined.
The absence of Pogba in particular is a major concern with quality options so threadbare in that department. Nemanja Matic has been on spectating duty for the majority of the games so far but is likely to come in for Pogba – hardly a like for like swap in an area dying for more creativity, not less.
The lack of tried and trusted options up top probably means that Andreas Pereira will have to continue on the right rather than drop back into midfield and Fred has been nowhere to be seen so far – a start seems unlikely for him, too.
In truth, this game could be one that is more suited to United adopting a midfield trio with Leicester City so strong in that area with James Maddison, Youri Tielemans, Wilfred Ndidi and Hamza Choudhury. There’s a very real danger that the pairing of Matic and McTominay could get overrun but with James Garner on under 23 duty on Friday and Fred seemingly unfancied, it may be a gamble Solskjaer takes.
There are problems at the back, too. Despite United having five full-backs on the first team books, only one is likely to be fit to start on Saturday, and that is Ashley Young. If Wan-Bissaka doesn’t make the starting eleven, as is expected to be the case, then United will be forced to play a centre-back in a full-back role.
The only options across Solskjaer’s squad would appear to be either Marcos Rojo at left-back or Axel Tuanzebe at right-back. Both have fulfilled those roles before under Jose Mourinho and could benefit from minutes ahead of likely Europa League appearances next week but it certainly weakens the United backline in comparison to the first choice options.
The one area we can seek solace in is the forward areas. Namely the form of Daniel James in front of goal. The Welshman scored another cracker on international duty, again from the left flank, and will be brimming with confidence.
It stands to reason that James was actually bought to fill the troublesome right attacking berth but his finishing and general effectiveness has been far greater on the left, even if he is guilty of wasting opportunities on occasion.
The fact that Anthony Martial hasn’t made it back for this game does make Solskjaer’s decision on who-to-play-where a little bit easier for now, but it’s going to be interesting to see who starts on the left going forward when James, Martial and Marcus Rashford are all available.
Barring any surprise start for Mason Greenwood, we can expect to see Rashford take up the central role this weekend in what will presumably be an unchanged attacking quartet from the Southampton draw.
Whilst United’s injury situation isn’t absolutely dire, Solskjaer is clearly a bit handicapped in terms of selection after seeing so many players leave for Italy at the end of the European transfer window. In all honesty, none of those players, maybe barring Alexis Sanchez, would make a huge difference to the selection come 3pm on Saturday but things could start getting sticky if any more knocks are picked up in the meantime as the fixture list gets busier from this point on.
It’s tough to admit, but United might be thankful to get through this weekend with a point and a clean bill of health.
Score Prediction: Manchester United 1-1 Leicester City
Confirmed Squad Members: De Gea, Romero, Grant; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Tuanzebe, Jones, Young; McTominay, Matic, Andreas, Fred; Gomes, Mata, Chong, Greenwood, Rashford, James.