We are finally back! The Premier League is underway and Manchester United face Leeds United in their opening match of the campaign. United will host the game and with a full-house expected, it’s going to be a match to remember.
The last time that Old Trafford was packed out, Scott McTominay sent the supporters into raptures in the 96th minute when United trumped Manchester City, beating them 2-0 on the 8th of March 2020.
United will be desperate to give their returning fans a great show but also they’ll want to ensure that they don’t have a false-start like they did against Crystal Palace last season.
The match will begin at 12:30 PM BST, being shown live on BT Sport. Paul Tierney will referee the clash with Chris Kavanagh manning the VAR at Stockley Park.
If you were to chose an opponent to face for a first game back with a full Old Trafford, you’d probably pick Leeds.
With a long-standing rivalry between the two Northern clubs, many United fans would’ve liked to see the 6-2 victory against Marcelo Bielsa’s men last season, yet Old Trafford was left empty throughout the smashing.
It was, however, still a sweet win against the side which has been waiting to face United in the Premier League since they were abolished to the second division back in 2004. The last time that a crowd saw United and Leeds face off in the Premier League at Old Trafford was on the 21st of February 2004, where the spoils were shared in a 1-1 draw with Paul Scholes scoring for The Reds.Embed from Getty Images
With their elite fitness levels and highly intense philosophy under the excellent Marcelo Bielsa, it’s possible that the visitors won’t let United breath in the opening match of the season, but they could also change their approach like they did at Elland Road in April and be more compact and passive, which saw them take two points from the Reds.
It has been a mixed bag throughout pre-season for Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s men, who have a record of 2W, 1D, 1L, however as with any pre-season fixtures, you have to take the results with a large pinch of salt.
United have had many first-team players for just one match in pre-season, meaning that preparation for this encounter could be better. The likes of Nemanja Matic, Mason Greenwood and Aaron Wan-Bissaka are the only real starting options that have had a full pre-season.
Meanwhile, even though Leeds’ pre-season record was less successful results wise (1W, 2D, 3L), they are in a much better position to start the campaign than Ole’s side is, it must be said.
Bielsa has had the majority of his starting team for a host of pre-season games and they would’ve gained valuable fitness through the period.
The hosts will be without a few key names, with Marcus Rashford missing out after he had shoulder surgery last Friday. Edinson Cavani is another who will miss out on the matchday squad after he was rewarded with an extended holiday after his Copa America venture.
Solskjær confirmed that Jadon Sancho will be involved in the match after joining the squad earlier this week, but illness kept him out of a couple of sessions, which is why the Norwegian couldn’t tell whether his new prized asset would be able to start.
The manager also has said that Raphaël Varane will not be able to be in the squad after the confirmation of his signing has had some complications.
Anthony Martial will return to the squad after five months out injured.
Leeds have their new addition, Junior Firpo, available to make his competitive debut for the club after his transfer from Barcelona.
Diego Llorente, however, is unavailable after sustaining an injury against Real Betis that could keep him out for one or two more weeks according to their manager. Jamie Shackleton is fit after suffering a concussion in the defeat against Ajax, while Joe Gelhardt and Adam Forshaw are unlikely to be involved.
Even though Kalvin Phillips was a mainstay in Gareth Southgate’s Euro 2020 England side, he’s expected to play a part at Old Trafford.
Ones to watch
For the hosts, it’s clear that Bruno Fernandes will be a threat in the middle. It didn’t take the Portuguese playmaker long to make an impact on his return against Everton last week – it was after just 29 minutes that he found the top left-hand corner from a free-kick.Embed from Getty Images
After his first two seasons in red were so impressive, Fernandes will be going into this campaign to prove that he can do it a third time. After a poor Euro 2020, he looked very sharp in his first encounter last week, so he’ll certainly be looking to cause the visitors some problems.
Alongside Bruno, Mason Greenwood will be looking to stake a claim to be in the United frontline this season. With some fierce competition, Greenwood is the only United forward who has a full pre-season under his belt, making his place in the starting XI crystal clear. He’s going to want to impress if he’s going to keep the likes of Marcus Rashford (when he’s fit) and Anthony Martial out of the team, that starts on Saturday.
Even though Sancho is unlikely to start the match, it is expected that he’s going to be given a run-out and with that will come an enormous cheer at Old Trafford. Against tired (or as tired as they can be) Leeds legs, Sancho could be the difference maker in the final 30 minutes. It would be a brilliant story.
On the other side, Patrick Bamford will be aiming for another impressive individual campaign in the Premier League after he notched 17 for his side last term. The English striker is fresh after not being selected for England’s Euro 2020 venture and has already got into his goalscoring rhythm, with two goals in pre-season.Embed from Getty Images
No false starts
There is only one word to describe United’s opening day loss to Crystal Palace last season. Embarrassing. That should give Solskjaer’s men a larger incentive to start this season in the complete opposite fashion.
Of course there is perhaps a more difficult side put in front of them this time around, but the incentive should be huge with a full capacity Old Trafford behind the team and a more prepared team than the one that faced The Eagles.
With a frightening fixture list in October, facing the likes of Leicester City, Liverpool and Everton, United need to start the campaign well. They can’t afford to have a false start.