The big kick-off in England’s top division is finally here, and the first game pitches last season’s runners-up against the club that won the title in 2016. Neither side will be fielding their strongest XI here – with players recuperating after World Cup exertions, both managers will be making use of their squads.
It’s the Red Devils who can boast the stronger setup, and this could be crucial given the likely absence of pivotal players such as Romelu Lukaku and Jesse Lingard on the red side, while the Foxes look to find replacements for Jamie Vardy and Harry Maguire. They will also be without the star of their breathtaking last few seasons, Riyad Mahrez. The Algerian winger has finally completed a move to United’s local rivals Manchester City.
This match will also present us with the first opportunity to see some of the players who have arrived at the clubs over the summer. The hosts may well give a debut to Brazilian midfielder Fred, although full-back Diogo Dalot is out until September, having had surgery following his move from Porto. Jose Mourinho is also hoping to land further replacements on transfer deadline day, though whether they will be ready to play immediately is uncertain
For City, new defensive arrival Jonny Evans is expected to sit this one out, but athletic Portuguese right-back Ricardo Pereira should make his bow. Skilful number 10 James Maddison, landed for a big fee from Norwich, will likely be involved from the start. We may need to wait longer to see Rachid Ghezzal, newly arrived from Monaco. He’s a mercurial Algerian winger who’s joined Leicester from a French club, which sounds eerily familiar…
Who’ll emerge with the three points from this opening night clash? Read on, and we’ll give you our predictions and Manchester United vs Leicester betting tips for the game.
Our Manchester United vs Leicester Prediction: Manchester United 2-1 Leicester
Although Jose Mourinho has been travelling the world, telling everyone who will listen that Manchester United are woefully unprepared for this season, there is reason to doubt that will show here. Although the absence of many World Cup players is sure to hurt, it won’t deprive United of attackers Alexis Sanchez and Marcus Rashford. In front of a home crowd, we’d expect them to have enough to win this fixture.
With a much-changed line-up, it’s hard to know what to expect from Leicester. They’ll certainly be keen to avenge a defeat here last season, but United’s greater resources and home advantage are what we would expect to be pivotal this evening. With both the Foxes’ first-choice centre-backs, plus their goalscoring talisman Vardy, out of the reckoning, admirable and futile resistance is probably the best the East Midlanders can offer here.
Our recommended tip: Both teams to score
World Cup-lag is depriving both of these sides of a number of key players, and with United also missing midfield enforcer Nemanja Matic and their first- and second-choice right backs, there’s a sense that they can be got at here. However, unless Leicester can secure transfer deadline day signings who can plug straight into their defence, the visitors are more vulnerable still.
While predicting the precise final score is a more testing conundrum, it feels reasonable to say that both teams will be able to get the ball in the net here. United’s attacking riches are no secret, while Kelechi Iheanacho has begun to show why Leicester felt he was worth £25million and with the benefit of a full pre-season will be hungry to truly launch his career with Puel’s side.
With both teams likely to be still feeling their way, and errors unlikely to be in short supply, it’s a pleasant surprise to find Both Teams To Score at anything other than odds-on.
The history between these sides since Leicester arrived back in the Premier League in 2014 has been intriguing, and chaotic from the very start. A Nigel Pearson-led Leicester won the first meeting 5-3, while United were one of only two teams the title-winning side of 2016 failed to beat that season (both games were drawn 1-1).
In the 16/17 campaign, Mourinho’s men won home (4-1) and away (3-0) over the defending champions, and last season saw them extend their winning run against the Foxes to three with a 2-0 win at Old Trafford. The return fixture at the King Power did see Leicester finally stop the rot, as they benefited from a 94th-minute Maguire goal to secure a 2-2 draw.
One thing worth noting is that the sides have not played out a single goalless draw since 1997, and you’re unlikely to see that statistic overturned in this game.
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Players to watch: Alexis Sanchez & Ricardo Pereira
With Chile’s absence from the summer’s events in Russia the football world lost out on one of the most exciting national teams, but it made Jose Mourinho’s life a lot easier.
Alexis, without the inconvenience of a World Cup summer, got the chance to bed in a little more with a side he only joined in January. His skill, finishing ability and creative eye will be vital to any hopes Mourinho has of matching or improving on last season’s second place. He once scored a hat-trick for Arsenal against Leicester, and it’s not out of the question that he could repeat the dosage here.
Pereira’s arrival at Leicester may not seem hugely significant at first glance, but the player’s arrival from Porto is a sign that Puel wants to move away from the reliance of a few flair players further forward to make and take chances.
Leicester became too easy to defend against when teams realised they had slow, unproductive full-backs and any deep-lying defence could frustrate Mahrez and the thrilling Demarai Gray. The kinetic, ambitious presence of Pereira at right-back, and Ben Chilwell on the other side, is likely to see more space for Gray, Maddison and others to operate in, and could revolutionise how Puel’s Leicester play.