It only feels like five minutes since the World Cup was in full swing, but here we are ready to go for the start of the 2018/19 Premier League season.
Match number 1 out of 380: Manchester United vs Leicester City on Friday night. It will be great for the neutrals or armchair supporters, of course, who can finish work and then chill out and watch the game or head down to the pub for a lively night out.
But for us season-ticket holders at Old Trafford, it’s not great scheduling. Log off, throw down some dinner and then head into the traffic, and obviously it’s much worse for the travelling Leicester fans. Give me a Saturday (preferably) or Sunday game any time.
Still, let’s hope it’s a memorable match to launch the new campaign, although United’s pre-season has been totally forgettable for various reasons – disappointing friendly-match results, few goals scored, lots of players missing and Jose Mourinho seemingly close to a meltdown.
The manager has found lots to complain about and it’s understandable to worry that he is planning his exit strategy, rather like the way he appeared to do at Chelsea three years ago.
Not that some fans are worried – plenty would like to see the back of Mourinho ASAP.
I’m not among them because I still think he’s a better option than any likely candidate to replace him, and by that I mean those who would be reasonably available in the near future.
But with this game taking place only 26 days after the World Cup Final, we know Mourinho will not be able to select the team he would want to against Leicester due to players needing, and deserving, a decent holiday following their exploits in Russia.
Mourinho recently indicated that Marouane Fellaini, Jesse Lingard, Romelu Lukaku, Paul Pogba and Ashley Young would not be able to start the season’s curtain-raiser, while any last-gasp beat-the-deadline new signings are unlikely to play a part either. Antonio Valencia and Nemanja Matic are injured, while Anthony Martial remains out of favour (and may yet be sold).
Predicted Manchester United XI
So that leaves the group who were involved in last weekend’s 1-0 defeat away to Bayern Munich, and therefore this is my predicted XI to face the Foxes:
De Gea, Darmian, Lindelof, Smalling, Shaw, Herrera, Fred, McTominay, Mata, Rashford, Sanchez
That means two changes from the Bayern game. Eric Bailly took a knock at the Allianz Arena and so he could play if fit, more likely at the expense of Victor Lindelof than Chris Smalling, who appeared to be Mourinho’s most trusted centre-half at the end of last season.
And I’m not convinced Andreas Pereira has yet done enough to force himself into the first-team picture, while it was interesting that Mourinho used another youngster, Scott McTominay, in a couple of different roles on the tour to his usual holding midfield slot.
Man United vs Leicester Prediction
With Leicester having had a much smoother build-up, and likely to get Harry Maguire and Jamie Vardy involved after their return to training this week, I fear a point is all United are likely to take from this game – and that would do little to lighten Mourinho’s morose mood.
Correct score prediction: Manchester United 1-1 Leicester City
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