Whilst Manchester United are wallowing in a sea of criticism for their style of play under Louis van Gaal, they sit highest among any of the traditional big names in the premier league after 13 games. If United are misplaced in second place, then Leicester City are nothing more than a mirage in first place.
In the one million permutations of the narrative if the premier league title race this season, Claudio Ranieri's team lifting the big silver in May would rank at 1,000,001. Not that they're least deserving of their lofty position. Heck, it is arguable that
Jamie Vardy Leicester merit top spot ahead of Manchester United if only for their good old fashioned English style football in a squad of United Nations members.
Saturday's most unlikely top of the table decider is a stark contrast of styles. Where Leicester play and attack with abandon and expression, Louis van Gaal has his United side well protected defensively and and cautious if not conservative in attack. Indeed, whilst Ranieri's side retain a loose defence because of that approach, United boast the meanest defence in the top division.
So what happens when a tornado meets a volcano? Deuces maybe. What is for certain though is that there is more chance of David De Gea scoring the winner than Louis van Gaal approaching Saturday's fixture in the same way he did a little over 12 months ago. In that game, a United side set up to play to its strengths in a very attack minded formation led 3-1 into the second half before losing 5-3 eventually. Three strikers started for United that day alongside a cast of attacking midfielders in Ander Herrera and Angel Di Maria. No marks for predicting that those attacking resources will not be reflected tomorrow.
Perhaps it works against Leicester that they are now so deep into their unbelievable run of form that they'll now be respected more than teams have been affording them. Jamie Vardy for instance will be a marked man from the warm up tomorrow.
United's supposedly 'boring style' football has been abated by teams that sit back and defend deep against the Reds. It's hard to imagine that Leicester will do the same when their strength is in attacking with abandon.Whether that plays into United's hands or causes them to step off further back will make for great Saturday evening viewing.
As fate would have it, Jamie Vardy will go past Ruud van Nistelrooy's premier league record of scoring in successive games if he scores tomorrow against Manchester United. Chris Smalling, already with an impressive campaign, will see his ratings soar even higher if he can do what no centre forward has managed to do so far: keep Vardy out.
We know they'll probably keep a clean sheet, but will Manchester United score? They used to always score.
Ranieri sets up his side to play a more traditional 4-4-2 to exploit the width of the King Power Stadium. This is what will make van Gaal' selection in the wide areas interesting. Ashley Young is used as a point of attack on the flank when he plays full back but the manager might elect to go with a more conservative Matteo Darmian to double up on Leicester's plan of width. Ditto on the left flank with Marcos Rojo and or Daley Blind supported by Jesse Lingard. Certainly, the 3-5-2 used last season that allowed Leicester plenty of space out wide should be a non-starter.
The question however arises as to whether United should be making contingency for Leicester City or whether it should be the other way round!
The Bottom Line
With no point in this fixture from last season, a point gained tomorrow would technically be an improvement but United look desperately short on confidence. If ever there was a game that they needed to restore that then its this one. A game that stakes the leadership of the league. Win that and the confidence levels will soar again after the soul sapping episode on Wednesday night. Lose, and suddenly Louis van Gaal will have an even harder job convincing fans of his methods.
The manager has so far succeeded in putting up results when mutiny seems to draw near. Tomorrow would be a good time to offset mutinous sentiment for another week.
Labels: LOUIS VAN GAAL, PRE-VIEWS