A fixture that has recently provided entertainment and a good number of goals kicks off the new English Premier League soccer season when Manchester United host Leicester City at Old Trafford on Friday (3pm ET).
Man Utd won out 2-0 at Old Trafford last season but the return at Leicester’s King Power stadium ended in a 2-2 draw and there have been an average of 3.75 goals per match over the course of the last eight league matches between the sides. Will that continue this weekend?
United certainly started last season strongly in front of goal. They won 4-0 in four of their first seven matches of the campaign, alongside that 2-0 win over Leicester, a 2-2 draw with Stoke and a 1-0 win over Southampton. They scored just under a third of their goal total for the entire season in that impressive opening stretch.
At that stage, it looked as if Jose Mourinho’s side might be able to challenge local rivals Manchester City for the league title, but their form tailed off a bit thereafter and after a 1-2 home defeat to City in December, they were never truly in the race. They eventually finished second, but a full 19 points behind the runaway winners.
The gap between the sides is a big one for Mourinho and his team to try and close this time around. Man Utd only conceded one more goal than City last season – although it must be noted that goalkeeper David de Gea made a significant contribution to that feat – but scored a full 38 less. There was little in the second half of last season, even following the addition of Alexis Sanchez, to suggest United will necessarily be capable of doing so.
The third season at a club is usually when things start to come apart for Mourinho, and he was particularly grumpy throughout United’s pre-season preparations, especially on the topic of what he considers, somewhat laughably, to be limited support in the transfer market. As it stands, Mourinho’s status as the joint second favorite with most of the bookmakers to be the first manager to leave his post looks pretty reasonable.
Claude Puel sits at the top of that list following a poor end to last season at Leicester. His side lost five of their last seven matches of the campaign and only won three of their last 14. The club have shown in recent years that they can be very decisive when they feel a change needs to be made. He therefore needs to oversee a good start to the new campaign.
Puel was brought in 10 matches into last season with the brief to introduce a more possession-based approach to a side famed for their counter-attacking potency. Results were mixed, at best, with Leicester’s ninth-place finish due more to the weakness of those behind them than their own merits. With a full pre-season to get his ideas across, more can be expected of him and his team this season.
The departure of Riyah Mahrez, provider of 10 goals and 12 assists last season, to Manchester City was clearly a blow, but Leicester’s transfer dealings have otherwise impressed. James Maddison has looked sharp in the central attacking midfield role following his move from Norwich, while Ricardo Pereira is a clear upgrade at right-back. Johnny Evans provides experience and ball-playing ability in the centre of defence.
There are still a few areas of the pitch in which Leicester’s second-choice options are far from inspiring, but Puel does, in general, have a squad who should be capable of fighting for a top-eight finish. If they fail to do so, his position will be at serious risk.
It is, though, difficult to see Leicester getting off to a strong start on Friday. While they have largely been pretty competitive against Man Utd in recent years, they have lost on three of their last four visits to Old Trafford. Both sides had players involved in the latter stages of this summer’s World Cup, but United have a squad that is better prepared to deal with any absences. If Evans misses out through injury, Leicester are likely to be weak in defence.
Our Preview’s Man Utd vs. Leicester Picks & Predictions Verdict
While United’s ability to challenge Man City for the Premier League title remains in doubt, they should still be expected to record a relatively comfortable victory in their season opener. Having scoured the odds from the legal USA offshore sports betting firms, this is our Man Utd vs Leicester prediction and betting pick for this game: