It's back! The 27th Premier League season starts with Leicester's trip to Manchester United. Michael Cox and Alan Thompson preview Friday night's season opener.
"Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United have rarely played good, attacking football over the past two seasons, and there’s little reason to suspect they’ll play any differently this time around."
Manchester United v Leicester
Friday 20:00, Sky Sports Main Event.
Match Odds: Man Utd [1.5], Leicester [8.8], The Draw [4.4].
Less than a month since the World Cup final, the new top-flight season starts with an intriguing game between Manchester United and Leicester, two of only six clubs to have won the Premier League in its 26-year history. It's the second consecutive season that Leicester have taken part in the season opener, and if this contest is anything like their 4-3 defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates last year, it should be a thriller.
It probably won't be, however. Jose Mourinho's Manchester United have rarely played good, attacking football over the past two seasons, and there's little reason to suspect they'll play any differently this time around. Claude Puel's Leicester City focus largely on the counter-attack away from home, and will look to defend deep before using speed on the break.
If you're hoping for the Premier League campaign to get underway with an end-to-end goalfest, you might well be disappointed.
Selection problems for both sides
There's also major doubts about both managers' selections for this game. Reports suggest that Jose Mourinho will definitely be without Diogo Dalot, Marcos Rojo and Antonio Valencia at the back, and Nemanja Matic just in front. Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, Phil Jones, Ashley Young and Marouane Fellaini are all considered doubtful having started pre-season late after their World Cup exertions, while Ander Herrera and Eric Bailly collected knocks in pre-season.
Puel, meanwhile, has announced that neither Jamie Vardy nor Harry Maguire are likely to start. Matty James is definitely out, with fitness concerns over Jonny Evans, Nampalys Mendy and exciting newcomer James Maddison.
Both sides are in something of a shambolic state with such a quick turnaround after the World Cup, and both are likely to field something of an unfamiliar starting XI. This seems likely to result in both managers being even more cautious and unadventurous than usual, afraid that their defences will need extra protection.
Fred the red
Mourinho's back four could be absolutely anything. Bailly will, if fit, probably partner Chris Smalling in defence, with Luke Shaw possibly on the left despite continual speculation that Mourinho doesn't rate him particularly highly, and Matteo Darmian on the right despite the fact he was expected to leave in the transfer window.
Matic's absence means Ander Herrera will probably play the deep midfield role with Andres Pereira to his left. Fred, the £50m arrival from Shakhtar Donetsk, should make his debut to the right. He's a good all-round box-to-box midfielder, and likely to play a balancing role between Matic and Pogba in a 4-3-3 when everyone is fit.
Marcus Rashford returned to pre-season earlier than expected and should lead the line here, with Alexis Sanchez cutting inside from the left and Juan Mata floating between the lines from the right. We're yet to witness any true understanding between United's forwards since Sanchez's arrival in January, although he's at least enjoyed a summer off after continually playing tournaments for Chile in the past.
Evans may debut against former club
Leicester's new signing Evans should make his debut against his former club, while Maddison could play the central attacking midfield role if fit to start. Otherwise it's a relatively familiar Leicester shape, 4-2-3-1, expected at Old Trafford. Ricardo Pereira will offer energy from right-back, while Wilfried Ndidi and Vincente Iborra have developed a good midfield partnership.
Upfront, Vardy's absence means Kelechi Iheanacho will probably play as a lone striker, threatening to run in behind the opposition into the channels.
I'm not expecting Iheanacho to get many chances, however, and Leicester would be delighted with a point here. United will dominate possession and take the game to Leicester, but with star names likely to be absent, I think they could struggle to make the breakthrough. I'm expecting a tight game, and will back Under 1.5 goals at [3.7].
The Betfair Trader's View - Alan Thompson
The Red Devils are plenty short enough at [1.52] in the match odds market but they were decent at home last season, winning 15 of their games and conceding just nine goals in the process. Their opening five games were all won without conceding.
Leicester arrive at Old Trafford as the [9.0] underdogs and have conceded 10 goals in their last four visits (3 defeats and a draw). They didn’t finish last season in the best of form, losing their last three on the road (conceding 12 goals) and just winning one of their last seven at home (final day against Arsenal).
Despite the issues off the pitch, I think the home side take all three points here and I will be splitting my stake backing Man United / Man United in the Half Time / Full Time market at anything better than [2.4] and Manchester United -1.0 & -1.5 in the Asian Handicap at around [2.25].