A new Premier League season is upon us, and although plenty of people are writing off Manchester United, Kevin Hatchard expects them to make a winning start.
"For all the doom and gloom, United have a very impressive recent home record, and should overcome a depleted Leicester side comfortably."
Manchester United v Leicester City
Friday August 10, 20:00
Live on Sky Sports
Mourinho tested like never before
Time waits for no man, and this season Jose Mourinho faces one of the biggest challenges of his trophy-laden career. He must show that his methods on and off the field are still relevant, and must defy the notion that the sport is moving past him. On the field, his inherent caution cost him dearly in the Champions League, as United suffered a limp exit against a limited Sevilla side. Off the field, his public criticism of players like Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial and Luke Shaw and his moaning about transfers are starting to look a bit old-hat, the tricks of a magician who needs to freshen up his act.
The burden isn't solely on Mourinho's shoulders. If United are to challenge crosstown rivals Manchester City (they finished 19 points behind them last term), then star players like Pogba and Alexis Sanchez must meet their irascible boss halfway.
Pogba showed what he is capable of during France's successful World Cup campaign, and is good enough to impose himself on games regardless of Mourinho's tactical strictures. Sanchez was in involved in five Premier League goals in 12 appearances after arriving from Arsenal in January, but the Chilean cut a frustrated figure at times, and is capable of better.
Despite the cloak of despair Mourinho has manufactured and wrapped around his shoulders, there is much to be positive about. United won 25 of their 28 league games last term, and at Old Trafford they have won seven of their last eight PL outings, conceding just four goals in the process. Their record against top-six sides was also encouraging, while 19 points collected from ten games against the big hitters.
Marcus Rashford is available to lead the attack after cutting his post-World Cup holiday short, while there could be a debut in midfield for new Brazilian signing Fred.
Foxes adjusting to life after Mahrez
No player is bigger than the club, as the saying goes, but it'll still take something special for Leicester City to replace Manchester City's new record signing Riyad Mahrez. The Algerian was a key player in the Foxes' barely comprehensible title success in 2016, and he delivered 35 Premier League goals and 24 assists in the last three campaigns.
That attacking spark will be tough to reignite, but City have made some really smart signings. Ricardo Pereira is an outstanding right-back who wouldn't look out of place at a Champions League challenger, midfielder James Maddison was one of the best players in the Championship last term, and wily centre-back Jonny Evans brings nous and experience.
At time of writing, England centre-back Harry Maguire was still a Foxes player, with the club insisting he's not for sale despite strong interest from Manchester United. If they do keep him, then it's probably been as good a transfer window as it could have been given Mahrez' inevitable departure.
Doubts persist over the playing style of French coach Claude Puel, but he led the team to ninth last term, having delivered a top-eight finish for Southampton the previous season. He has earned at least another campaign at the helm.
United to start with a win
Puel has indicated that neither Maguire nor fleet-footed striker Jamie Vardy will start for City after their England exertions, and if we take him at his word, then the visitors aren't in great shape. New signing Maddison is struggling to be fit, and the loss of Mahrez is damaging.
For all of Mourinho's gloomy protestations, he can select a strong enough side to win this, and it's worth noting that United have won eight of their last nine home games against the Foxes in all competitions. Opta tell us United have lost just one of their last 18 home games against Friday's opponents.
Leicester lost their final three away games of last season, and if you stretch back a bit further, they have lost seven of their last ten road games in the top flight. In that spell they conceded five goals each at Manchester City, Crystal Palace and Spurs.
I'll back United -1.5 on the Asian Handicap here at [2.51].
Get set for Friday night fun
Over 2.5 Goals is trading at [2.04] here, and I'm pleasantly surprised that is the case. Eight of City's last ten Premier League away games have featured three goals or more, while an overs bet has paid out in five of United's last ten PL home matches.
Sanchez to hit the ground running
After having the summer off after Chile's failure to qualify for the World Cup, Alexis Sanchez is raring to go. He scored against Milan and Real Madrid in pre-season, and with Romelu Lukaku unlikely to feature, he'll have to pick up the slack.
You can back him to score in 90 minutes at [2.1], or use the Same Game Multi feature on the Sportsbook to combine a United win, Over 2.5 Goals and Sanchez to score at odds of [3.91].
Back Manchester United -1.5 on the Asian Handicap at [2.51]
Back Over 2.5 Goals at [2.04]