Champions League Match Day 2 Preview — Manchester United (1-0-0, +3, 3-0) vs. Valencia (0-0-1, -2, 0-2)

The sideshow rages on at Old Trafford, where Manchester United will try to put aside all the distractions created by Jose Mourinho and Paul Pogba and create some separation in Group H of the Champions League on Tuesday when they host Valencia.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Any thought that Manchester United had moved on from their early season swoon promptly gave way to a fresh new inquest following a disastrous week in which they were bounced from the Carabao Cup on penalties by Derby County, coached by Frank Lampard, his one-time midfielder at Chelsea, and then were listless in a 3-1 defeat at West Ham United over the weekend.

Mourinho’s relationship at Pogba reached a nadir early last week when he stripped the World Cup winning midfielder of the vice captaincy in front of his teammates at training before the loss to Derby, and things were not helped when Pogba was lifted in the 70th minute of the loss to West Ham.

However, Mourinho then sucked whatever oxygen was left in the room Monday with a fresh round of criticisms of his team, saying “I see upset people, I see people that don’t look like they lost a game. I see different actions but what you see is not really inside.”

It still remains to be seen if Mourinho has truly lost either the plot or the dressing room in what is rapidly becoming yet another third-year death spiral for “The Special One.” The bigger issue for United is if the latter is the case, the only person who can conceivably come in and salvage this team this season is Zinedine Zidane, who has been breathlessly rumoured to be the next in line should Mourinho’s act run its course this term.

Things were not helped earlier Tuesday when reports emerged Mourinho has also fallen out with Alexis Sanchez, who has scored just three goals in 21 matches across all competitions since his January arrival from Arsenal.

The Chilean international has just one assist in five league matches and was held out of United’s 3-0 win over Young Boys in United’s Champions League opener a fortnight ago. He was an unused substitute in the loss to Derby and not among the 18 at West Ham United.

While Sanchez is expendable to a degree because Anthony Martial can be plugged in on the left wing in United’s 4-3-3 formation, Pogba continues to be a must-play despite the issues between him and Mourinho.

Yet the good news for United — at the moment — is that there appears to be a clear line of demarcation in Group H between the haves and the have-nots as Mourinho’s team are still expected to progress along with Juventus. That puts the pressure on Valencia to somehow get a result from Old Trafford after Els Taronges opened their Champions League adventure with a 2-0 defeat to the Italian side.

Yet the Spanish side enter this contest with some momentum after finally posting their first victory in La Liga last weekend, a 1-0 triumph at Real Soceidad on Saturday. Kevin Gameiro accounted for the lone goal, continuing the offensive struggles of a team that has recorded draws in five of their seven league matches while scoring just five goals.

“We’re here with hope, because of the surroundings, the competition and the opponent. We go out to win every game, even if we know how difficult it will be to win here,” Rodrigo said at Monday’s news conference. “We competed well against Juventus, but didn’t manage to get over the line. Even so, we’ve come here to win, and we’ll be trying to go out feeling as good as possible and to grow as a team.”

It is possible some of the offensive struggles of late were due to Marcelinho serving a two-match ban after being sent off in their scoreless draw at Villarreal, but the team has been held off the scoresheet in four of their eight matches. Els Taronges have scored three of their five goals on the road, but they also have not scored in 378 minutes of Champions League play dating to their last appearance in 2015 when Gent’s Stefan Mitrovic scored an own goal that made the difference in Valencia’s 2-1 victory.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, United are still overwhelming favourites despite all the drama surrounding them, entering the match with 7/10 odds to take the full three points. The odds of the team splitting the points are 27/10, while Valencia are 4/1 longshots to pull off a shock scoreline and add some chaos to Group H.

Even with Valencia’s struggles, oddsmakers are counting on United to deliver some goals as a home win with more than 2.5 goals leads the options at 17/10 odds. A 1-0 or 2-0 victory follows with 3/1 odds, while a 0-0 or 1-1 draw checks in at 18/5. For those who fancy the Spanish side emerging victorious, it is a 7/1 return on over 2.5 goals and 9/1 for under the mark.

Lukaku unsurprisingly leads the line for first goal-scorers at 3/1 odds, well clear of his wings Martial and Marcus Rashford, who are both 11/2 to make it 1-0 for United. Despite the reported fallout, Sanchez has 6/1 odds, and Pogba is always a viable selection as the penalty taker and gets 7/1 odds for the first marker. On Valencia’s side, Rodrigo Moreno leads the way at 15/2, followed by Gameiro and Chelsea loanee Michy Batshuayi — both of whom are 8/1.

Lukaku is almost even money to find the back of the net at some point during the match with 21/20 odds, with Rashford (15/8) edging out Martial (2/1) for second. Sanchez is a surprising 2/1 while Pogba lurks close behind him at 23/10 and Juan Mata has 5/2 odds. For Els Taronges, Moreno (13/5) edges out Gameiro and Batshuayi (11/4) for the top option.

PREDICTION

Manchester United need to make the pressure go away, and the only way that happens — for the time being at least — is with a victory in this game. A third successive loss on the bounce to teams all of lesser quality when compared to what Mourinho has regardless of his criticisms may be too much water for the ship to take on.

The Red Devils looked listless at West Ham, and perhaps more ominously, it looked like Mourinho was outcoached by counterpart Manuel Pellegrini as United lacked answers after falling behind. This match should be different because Valencia have lacked any and all offence for much of the young season — they have not scored more than two goals in any match.

Yet Rodrigo and Batshuayi could provide problems for a back four that still appear fragile at times, especially with the central partnership of Victor Lindelof and Chris Smalling. While it would no be surprising to see Fellaini as the shield in front of them, this may be a case where Matic may be the better call to be that holding midfielder while Pogba and Fred push forward.

For all the doom and gloom around United, they are not a bad side. There is quality throughout the pitch, and that doesn’t even factor in keeper David De Gea, arguably the best shot-stopper in the Premier League and perhaps Europe. It is a matter of everyone singing from the same hymn sheet, and that can only start with a victory — one United will likely graft to here.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: MANCHESTER UNITED 1, Valencia 0.

 

Champions League Match Day 1 preview — Young Boys vs. Manchester United

Welcome to the Champions League, kid, now go take down Goliath.

Swiss side Young Boys make their debut in group stage proper of Europe’s most prestigious club tournament Wednesday when they host one of its most storied sides in three-time champions Manchester United.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Young Boys ended the eight-year reign of FC Basel atop the Swiss Super League last season, but getting to this point was not guaranteed since they still had to navigate the qualifying rounds. They accomplished that in dramatic fashion against Dinamo Zagreb last month, overturning a 1-0 deficit in the second leg in Croatia on a brace by Guillaume Hourau. His penalty in the 66th minute — two minutes after he leveled the match — was enough to send Young Boys through 3-2 on aggregate and onto Europe’s biggest stage.

The victory exorcised the demons of their 2010 failure in that round, when Young Boys had stormed out to a 3-0 lead versus Tottenham Hotspur inside the first half-hour of the first leg, only to concede twice and then get roundly beaten 4-0 at White Hart Lane in the return encounter. It was also all the sweeter after missing out last season in the same round, losing to CSKA Moscow, before running away to win the Swiss Super League with four matches to spare.

The 34-year-old Hourau has emerged as an unlikely talisman of this time, a one-time PSG reject with five caps for France whose career was rejuvenated when he joined the Swiss outfit in 2014. Hourau has scored 86 goals in league and European play and is off to a fast start once again with four goals in helping Young Boys claim the maximum 18 points through their first six matches.

“Guillaume is not only the best striker, but the soul and the leader of the team,” RTS commentator David Lemos told ESPN FC. “He is clever, funny off the pitch, and decisive on it. People in Bern absolutely love him.”

First-year coach Gerardo Seoane has largely left the philosophy of predecessor Adi Hutter in place as Young Boys use a high pressing style. They have scored 19 goals in league play while conceding four and recorded four clean sheets. Christian Fassnacht had a brace in the most recent contest, a 3-0 victory at FC Sion on Sept. 1 that was also their first shutout in three matches.

Manchester United appear beyond the doldrums that plagued them early on. They have won back-to-back matches on the road and ended Watford’s 100 percent run with a 2-1 victory at Vicarage Road in their last league contest Saturday.

Romelu Lukaku and defender Chris Smalling scored three minutes apart late in the first half when the hosts afforded them too much respect, and United then saw off a spirited challenge from the upstarts as they hunted an equaliser for nearly a half-hour and played the final minutes with a man advantage after Nemanja Matic was sent off for his second booking.

United played that match without attacking winger Marcus Rashford, who served the first of a three-match ban for violent conduct in their win over Burnley. Jose Mourinho did not guarantee Rashford a spot in the starting XI, but given he has the most energy to burn since he will sit out this weekend’s contest at Wolverhampton, it would not be a stretch to see him on the pitch from the opening kick.

“He’s selected for the game,” Mourinho said Tuesday of Rashford while still showing a little of the salt from the previous week when he defended his use of the England international. “But I just want to remind you, in advance, that we can only start with XI. So when tomorrow you see the team you could try to speak about the ones that are going to play and don’t critique the ones that are not going to play.

“So we have Lukaku, Rashford, Mata, Alexis, Martial and they can not play all together. So try to be a little bit happy with the ones that are playing and not to be greedy with the ones that are not playing.”

Luke Shaw is expected to be back in the starting lineup after sitting out the win over Watford following a concussion suffered on international duty for England in their Nations League loss to Spain. Antonio Valencia, however, did not make the trip since Mourinho did not want to expose the veteran full back to Young Boys’ synthetic pitch and will opt for either Ashley Young or Diogo Dalot, the latter of whom has yet to feature for the senior side.

Despite this being a debut for Young Boys, United would like to forget some of their previous trips to Switzerland. Basel proved a bogey ground on the last two visits to St. Jakob-Park, including last season’s 1-0 defeat in group play, but it is United’s 2-1 loss in 2011 that is recalled far more vividly in Switzerland as it allowed Basel to progress into the knockout round at United’s expense.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, United are decisive 8/11 favourites to return home with three points and their third win on the trot. A draw is preferred at 27/10 slightly more than a Young Boys upset victory, which is listed at 15/4 odds.

With relation to the 2.5 over/under goals standard, United are 8/5 favourites to win with more than 2.5 goals scored and fetch a 13/4 return on a 1-0 or 2-0 scoreline. A scoreless or 1-1 draw has 19/5 odds, while a Young Boys win and over 2.5 goals has 13/2 odds compared to a 1-0 or 2-0 victory at 9/1.

Lukaku is an expected front-runner for first-goal honours at 7/2, trailed by Rashford (9/2) and Alexis Sanchez (5/1). Hoarau cracks the top five overall, tied with Martial at 6/1 and edging out Jesse Lingard (13/2) and Paul Pogba (7/1), whose two goals in league play have come from the penalty spot.

United’s attacking trio are also the top three options for a goal at any time during the match, with Lukaku leading the way at 5/4, Rashford checking in at 6/4 and Sanchez bringing up the rear at 7/4. Hoarau is a 2/1 bet to prevent David De Gea from posting his 14th career Champions League clean sheet.

PREDICTION

Another match, another chance for the aura of Manchester United to render an opponent helpless for a pivotal stretch in which they can take control of the match. This sounds a little passive-aggressive, sure, but for all the hope neutrals had last weekend in hoping Watford would come out from the get-go and take it to United, the wiles of Mourinho and his men proved too much as they played a ruthless road match.

That pattern should play out here, with United trying to stretch Young Boys all over the pitch when against the high press of the Swiss side. Young Boys keeper David Van Ballmoos does have European experience, but he did not notch his first win in continental play until last month in his 11th such match.

There is much talk about the synthetic turf, though most of it comes after the match when both players and managers are complaining about the knock-on soreness following 90 minutes of running on it. United are the fourth Premier League team to be making the trip to Bern this decade, joining Spurs, Everton and Liverpool, and of the three, only the Lilywhites made the trek back to England empty-handed.

Recent history will allow Mourinho to remind his players not to take their opponents for granted, but as it pertains to United, they appear to be a team rounding the corner. A road sweep of three opponents would be another step in getting themselves in position to make a charge up the table.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Young Boys 0, Manchester United 2.

OTHER CHAMPIONS LEAGUE MATCH DAY 1 PREVIEWS:

Manchester City vs. Lyon

 

2018-19 EPL Match Day 5 Preview — Watford (4-0-0) vs. Manchester United (2-0-2)

(Writer’s Note: This preview can be seen in a text-only format at the STATS Hosted Solutions site. I am adding edits, projected starting lineups, odds-related picks and a final score prediction for the match for this website.)

The surprise package of the first four matches, Watford put their 100 percent record on the line Saturday at Vicarage Road as they try to move nine points clear of Manchester United.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Hornets (4-0-0) are enjoying the high life at the moment, trailing only evergreens Liverpool and Chelsea in the table with the maximum 12 points. Manager Javi Gracia has gotten his team to buy into his 4-2-2-2 formation, with Roberto Pereyra a revelation on the left wing replacing the departed Richarlison and keeper Ben Foster making the most of his second go-round with Watford.

One of the underrated parts to Watford’s success is their ability to build a deep squad that is able to run a two-track course with league and cup responsibilities. Watford have won all five of their matches overall and overturned their entire XI in their Carabao Cup win at Reading.

Gracia was named Premier League Manager of the Month, and the Spaniard has instilled confidence his team can claim another high-profile pelt after rallying to defeat Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 before the international break on goals by Troy Deeney and Craig Cathcart set up by Jose Holebas seven minutes apart in the second half.

“In this moment the results help us to feel we can do it, but it’s only a feeling because you have to do many things to win,” Gracia told Watford’s official website as they seek a club-record fifth consecutive home win in the top flight. “We need to manage situations, we need to play well, run a lot and fight a lot. After that we can have some options to win. We try to prepare as good as possible.”

Pereyra has a team-high three goals and Holebas leads the way with four assists. The Hornets have scored at least two goals in all five of their victories. Gracia is expected to stick with the same XI he has used in all four of his league matches, with Deeney and Andre Gray leading the line ahead of wingers Pereyra and Will Hughes.

“We are in a good moment, we are enjoying it, we know in the future things may change but this is a good moment for us,” Gracia added. “I prefer not to speak about if it’s the fifth game in a row, the sixth or the fourth – it’s the next one, the new one and the chance to get three points. The past is the past. I prefer to focus on the next game and the next three points.”

Getting three points has been challenging at times for Manchester United (2-0-2), who have been plagued by inconsistency and injuries at various positions across the pitch. They avoided a third consecutive loss before the international break with a comprehensive 2-0 victory at Burnley that relieved some of the crisis mode surrounding Jose Mourinho and the side, but the truth remains United have much heavy lifting to do to get back into the Premier League race.

The next challenge for Mourinho comes at left back, where Luke Shaw is not likely to play after suffering a concussion playing for England in their Nations League opener versus Spain. Shaw, who had been a whipping boy for Mourinho since his arrival from Southampton, had gotten into the manager’s good graces with a roaring start in being named the club’s player of the month.

United do have options if Shaw is not cleared to play, with one possibility being teenager and summer signing Diogo Dalot making his league debut. Dalot, a £19 million transfer from Porto, had his first action of the season with United’s Under-23 side earlier this week after recovering from an injury suffered last season.

“It was nice, the atmosphere was good, I can imagine if the stadium is full and I am very happy to come back,” Dalot told United’s official website. “It feels good to be back. It was a special night, getting my first minutes after four long months and I am really happy. It is a really special moment for me. I just want to take this opportunity to thank the amazing medical department and the coach, who has believed in me since day one.”

If Mourinho wants a veteran presence, he could opt for Marcos Rojo as the Argentina international has worked his way back into match shape recovering from injuries.

Marouane Fellaini is questionable for the match with a back injury that forced him to withdraw from Belgium’s Nations League matches. The towering midfielder was an influential figure in the win over Burnley in his first start of the season.

One player who will not be available is attacking winger Marcus Rashford, who will serve the first of his three-match ban for his headbutt of Phil Bardsley in the win over Burnley. His absence could be filled by Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata or Anthony Martial as Mourinho prepares for a busy stretch of schedule in which United play five matches across three competitions.

Rashford, though, will be available for United’s Champions League opener against Swiss side Young Boys on Wednesday.

United did the double over Watford last season, including a 4-2 victory in the corresponding fixture. Ashley Young scored twice in a six-minute span of the first half, and Martial made it 3-0 just after the half-hour. Manchester United are 9-0-1 in league matches against the Hornets, with the lone loss a 3-1 defeat at Vicarage Road in 2016.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Manchester United are solid favourites with 10/11 odds, and Watford will give a 3/1 return if they continue their 100 percent start. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 12/5.

United get a 21/10 return to win with more than 2.5 goals and 16/5 odds to win by a 1-0 or 2-0 count. There are also 13/4 odds of a 0-0 or 1-1 draw, while Watford have 6/1 odds to win with more than 2.5 goals and 7/1 under 2.5.

Lukaku is the favourite to make it 1-0 at 4/1 odds, with Sanchez hot on his heels at 5/1. Martial is third at 13/2, with Lingard close behind at 7/1. Deeney is the top Watford option at 15/2, followed by Gray at 8/1. Despite his three goals, Pereyra is listed at 11/1 to open the scoring.

Pereyra’s odds for a goal at any time in the match improve to 7/2, while Lukaku nets a 6/4 return. Sanchez has 9/2 odds to bag his first goal of the season for United, with Paul Pogba and Juan Mata receiving 13/5 odds. Deeney is also listed at 13/5 to beat David De Gea at some point.

PREDICTION

Do you know how I know it was a good week of practice for Manchester United? Mourinho was railing about all the questions surrounding Rashford, who isn’t even playing as he serves the first of this three-match ban for his red card against Burnley. In some ways, that win came at the worst time for United since it was clearly their better victory of the two they have.

Replacing Shaw — provided he is not cleared to play — will provide some obvious talking points, more so if Dalot does not make his debut after playing for the Under-23 side, but this is where United must kick on and get on with their season. They cannot afford to lose this game and be nine points behind Liverpool and seven points behind their eternal rivals across town (note: this space is not entirely sold on Chelsea, but a nine-point deficit would be inconvenient) given how the league is again quickly turning into a top 7/bottom 13 league once more.

And all this is not designed to give short shrift to Watford. The Hornets deserve their status as flavour of the month given their start, with Gracia doing excellent work. Watford have a track record of starting fast before fading in recent seasons, and either avoiding or enduring through that difficult stretch is Gracia’s biggest challenge.

Despite their maximum record, the break after rallying past Spurs may have come at the perfect time for Watford because it allowed Gracia to teach as opposed to simply ride the momentum of a big win into the next match. Those lessons will be learned, and while a fifth league win on the trot may be too big an ask, a hard-earned draw feels like the most likely outcome.

Predicted Final Score: Watford 1, Manchester United 1.

OTHER MATCH DAY 5 PREVIEWS:

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Liverpool
Manchester City vs. Fulham
Newcastle United vs. Arsenal
Everton vs. West Ham United

2018-19 EPL Match Day 3 Preview — Manchester United (1-0-1) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (2-0-0)

Both Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur are dealing with sizable distractions ahead of Monday’s showdown at Old Trafford.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Jose Mourinho’s third-season meltdowns at previous stops in England and Europe are well-documented, and the prospect of another one seems to be growing with each passing day. He is still reportedly upset club vice chairman Ed Woodward failed to land any of his summer transfer targets, most notably in central defence, and that contributed to United’s horrid 3-2 loss at Brighton and Hove Albion on Aug. 19.

The pairing of Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof – centre backs whom Mourinho wanted and United (1-0-1) got for a combined £60 million – both endured a torrid time in the opening 45 minutes when they conceded all three goals. Lindelof was directly responsible for the first and Bailly committed the foul that resulted in a penalty for the third.

As opposed to late last term when Mourinho excoriated his players, the Portuguese manager held his tongue publicly after the match, saying “please don’t ask me to go in this direction because it’s not good for me.”

Midfielder Paul Pogba, who would have been one of those players Mourinho likely would have criticised given he lost possession 28 times versus Brighton, created his own swirl of post-match controversy by saying “My attitude wasn’t right” to MUTV.

The midfielder, who has converted penalties in United’s first two matches, is also getting stick for failing to keep his agent Mino Raiola out of the media’s eye. Raiola got into a social media dust-up with ex-United midfielder and BT Sport pundit Paul Scholes, who criticised Pogba’s lack of leadership in the defeat.

Raiola shot back Scholes “wouldn’t recognize a leader if he was in front of Sir Winston Churchill,” and sarcastically suggested he should become United’s sports director. Pogba failed to help matters Thursday by making a shushing motion on an Instagram post while unveiling his new line of adidas footwear to mark France’s World Cup title.

Mourinho was then at his tetchy best in Friday’s pre-match news conference, which lasted all of four minutes and 19 seconds. He confirmed his relationship his Woodward as fine by responding “of course” to the question, told reporters to take up Pogba’s comments with the midfielder, offered little about how the squad trained during the week, and only conceded Spurs will be a “difficult match, against a team that last season finished top four, so difficult match.”

The most newsworthy portion was learning Alexis Sanchez, Nemanja Matic, Antonio Valencia all are training with the first team. Sanchez was a surprise omission last week due to a muscle injury, while first-team regulars Matic and Valencia have yet to make their season debuts.

Valencia would be a welcome sight at right back, where both Matteo Darmian and Ashley Young struggled to cover ground in the opening two matches. Matic could provide a needed counterweight to Pogba, taking his customary spot in front of the back four and forming a diamond with him, Fred and striker Romelu Lukaku as Sanchez and either Marcus Rashford or Juan Mata roam the flanks.

Things were humming along nicely for Tottenham Hotspur (2-0-0), who put aside the chatter of standing pat this summer with victories over Newcastle United and new boys Fulham. Harry Kane freed himself of the August albatross by finally scoring his first league goal in the first month of the season to cap a 3-1 win over the Cottagers on Aug. 18.

Yet all those good feelings were wiped away with the news keeper Hugo Lloris was charged with drink-driving in the early hours Friday in west London. The talisman of France’s World Cup winning side quickly released a statement through the team in which he wanted “to apologise wholeheartedly to my family, the club, my teammates, the manager and all of the supporters” and added “I take full responsibility for my actions and it is not the example I wish to set.”

Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino has yet to say whether the charge will lead to him benching his No. 1 keeper for this match. There have been reports Lloris will be stripped of the captaincy, which would be given to Kane – who wore the armband for England at the World Cup.

Last weekend’s win over Fulham saw Spurs at full strength save Heung-Min Son’s absence as he plays for South Korea in the Asian Games. Lucas Moura filled that spot and scored the opening goal of the match, and Kieran Trippier – a key cog in England’s run to the semifinals in Russia – scored the match-winner with a well-taken free kick.

This match could also make Mourinho wistful for Spurs centre back Toby Alderweireld, who was one of the players on his summer wish list. He became the most realistic option before the transfer deadline after United were priced out of signing Leicester City and England international Harry Maguire.

The Belgium international had wanted out of north London due to a lack of playing time – due to both a hamstring injury and the fallout of a contract standoff – but Alderweireld got his first start against Fulham as part of a 3-4-1-2 set-up and is expected to be in the first XI again versus United. Based on Pochettino’s comments after the victory over Fulham, the relationship between the pair appears to be merely professional at best.

“I won’t talk about him, I’ll talk in general always,” Pochettino told The Times. “I want players committed with the team. Players that are not happy, from my point of view, can leave. Then it’s different if they can negotiate with Daniel (Levy) or not.

“But if they are going to be here, I want full commitment. If not, tomorrow we can find a solution. I am so tired of talking about this.”

United have won four on the trot at home – the last three by 1-0 counts — over the Lilywhites and carry a 384-minute shutout streak there since Christian Eriksen scored the winner in Tottenham’s 2-1 victory to ring in 2014.

Spurs have a track record of abject misery at Old Trafford, winning only two of their last 30 matches (2-4-24) in all competitions. And for all the talk of distractions and dissention around Manchester United, Mourinho’s men did win their last four matches versus top-six sides last term.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Manchester United are slight 6/4 favourites, while Tottenham Hotspur have 15/8 odds to win. The draw is the long shot of the trio carrying 11/4 odds. Since punters expect both teams to score (Yes is a slight favourite at 3/4 over No at 21/20), United are 4/1 favourites to win such an outcome while Spurs are close behind at 9/2.

Punters also seem to be leaning toward a 1-1 draw as that is getting 3/1 odds, followed by a United victory and over 2.5 goals (16/5) and a Spurs victory over 2.5 goals (17/4). Those who feel United can record a fourth consecutive 1-0 scoreline at Old Trafford can get 21/5 odds on that outcome with under 2.5 goals and 7/1 odds on that exact outcome.

Kane leads the line for first-time goal-scorers at 7/2, followed by Lukaku (9/2). Spurs reserve striker Fernando Llorente is a surprising third option at 11/2, edging out both Sanchez and Rashford at 6/1.

Kane and Lukaku also lead the anytime goal-scorers list at 5/4 and 7/4 respectively. Llorente is again third at 2/1, closely followed by Sanchez (21/10) and Rashford (11/5).For those who believe Pogba will score for a third straight contest via penalty or otherwise, the France international checks in at 3/1.

PREDICTION

It may be too early to label this a must-win game for Manchester United, but there is a very real urgency not to lose this contest. Falling six points behind Manchester City after three matches will only fan the flames of panic and sharpen the knives around Old Trafford, and if you thought Mourinho was at his cantankerous best Friday, you can imagine what he would be like with two losses in three out of the blocks.

Getting Sanchez back would be nice, yes, but Matic could wind up being the swing vote in this match should he be ready to go. If Lindelof and Bailly can’t handle the pressure from Pascal Gross and Glenn Murray, how are they going to cope with Kane and Dele Alli while Christian Eriksen supports both through the middle? Matic is an enormous security blanket for the two young centre backs, a role neither Pogba nor Fred fully figured out working in tandem with Andreas Pereira.

The fact two players needed to do it while Matic has been recovering speaks volumes to his importance.

Lloris’ status cannot be fully addressed until Pochettino announces his decision, so there is little to debate for the time being. The between the lines message from Pochettino when discussing/not discussing Alderweireld’s status is the Spurs’ boss seemed ok with chairman Daniel Levy’s decision to stand pat over the summer.

While this goes completely against the arms race the Premier League has become since the most recent television deal, it’s still an interesting long-term gamble that could determine if Spurs are in Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal-like holding pattern fighting for a top-four spot or whether Unai Emery’s Arsenal and Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea can overtake them, even as early as this season.

Given how Mourinho does his best work when the outward appearance is he’s cornered, expect United to bare their teeth in a cagey match. Even with Matic, one gets the sense Mourinho’s squad are still not capable of a full-on 90-minute performance in the back without at least one glaring mistake, and Spurs’ defence has also switched off at times.

Predicted Final Score: Manchester United 1, Tottenham Hotspur 1.

Other Match Day 3 Previews:

Wolverhampton (0-1-1) vs. Manchester City (2-0-0)
Arsenal (0-0-2) vs. West Ham United (0-0-2)
Fulham (0-0-2) vs. Burnley (0-1-1)
Newcastle United (0-1-1) vs. Chelsea (2-0-0)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 1 Preview: Manchester United (0-0-0) vs. Leicester City (0-0-0)

(Writer’s Note: This preview can be seen in a text-only format at STATS Hosted Solutions site. I am adding edits, projected starting lineups, odds-related picks and a final score prediction for the match in this blog.)

It is difficult enough for teams to open the season following a World Cup because rotations are out of sync due to player availability.

Add that to the usual third-season chaos Jose Mourinho has had at his previous coaching stops, and you have a recipe for combustion as Manchester United head into Friday night’s Premier League opener versus Leicester City at Old Trafford.

POTENTIAL STARTING LINEUPS

United (25-6-7 in 2017-18) finished distant runners-up to eternal rivals Manchester City, 19 points adrift despite their highest point total (81) in five seasons. It was the club’s best finish since Sir Alex Ferguson made his farewell with his 13th Premier League title in 2013, but there was no silverware for Mourinho after winning the Carabao Cup and Europa League in 2017.

United – similar to other high-profile European clubs – had multiple first-team players participate in the World Cup this summer. Seven of the 11 players who went to Russia reached at least the semifinals.

Of those 11, Marcus Rashford and Phil Jones (England), David De Gea (Spain) and Victor Lindelof (Sweden) are expected to be available for this match. Nothing definitive has been offered regarding the status of Belgium teammates Romelu Lukaku and Marouane Fellaini and England duo Ashley Young and Jesse Lingard.

“Rashford will be in a better situation than (Tuesday),” Mourinho told MUTV on Tuesday. “Lindelof the same, Jones the same and let’s see if one of the others is ready to give us a help, 20-25 minutes. Any help that can come from them, is welcome.”

Midfielder Paul Pogba won the title with France, and while he will not play this match, things are tense between him and Mourinho. The United boss offered a backhanded compliment by saying the World Cup “is the perfect habitat for a player like him to give (their best),” to ESPN FC.

This was a pointed observation considering Mourinho spent last season trying to slot Pogba into the type of midfield partnership with Nemanja Matic that France manager Didier Deschamps successfully achieved with Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante.

Mourinho made those comments while United toured the United States. He often cut a frustrated and angry figure between poor performances and the lack of first-team players available. He railed about both following a 4-1 loss to Liverpool in Michigan in which he told The Independent, “We start the game with almost half the players who are not even going to belong on our squad on August 9 (the transfer deadline day). So what did this game give me? Nothing. Nothing at all.”

These comments could be one-time snipes and aggravations, but they also fit Mourinho’s track record when things go pear-shaped in season three. It happened in 2007 in his first stint with Chelsea after winning the Premier League title the season before. A falling out within the locker room with Real Madrid star players including Cristiano Ronaldo marked his third and final season at the Bernabeu in 2013.

And most recently, the third season during his second go-round at Chelsea – again after winning a Premier League title the season before – was so toxic another parting of the ways resulted after nine losses in the first 16 league matches in 2015-16.

But Mourinho is not in jeopardy. His frustration also stems from United chairman Ed Woodward’s failure to land many of the players Mourinho sought in this summer’s transfer window. That shortcoming is magnified by Thursday’s close of the England window compared to the FIFA calendar, which runs until the end of August.

United’s biggest signing was a £47 million transfer for midfielder Fred from Shakhtar Donetsk, who missed out on playing for Brazil at the World Cup due to a knee injury suffered in the tournament run-up. Starlet Diogo Dalot came over from FC Porto with a £19 million price tag, but the 19-year-old will likely start the season behind Antonio Valencia at right back.

With both nursing injuries, though, it is expected Lindelof will get the start at right back. Jones provides depth in central defense in the event Eric Bailly is unable to go after picking up a knock, and Andreas Perreira slots into the defensive midfield role with Matic sidelined by injury.

One marquee player Mourinho will have is attacking winger Alexis Sanchez, who starts his first full season at Old Trafford after arriving from Arsenal in January. His industry will be vital in the early part of the season, especially until Lukaku is ready to return and lead the line.

While United’s star players will eventually return, Leicester City (12-11-15) move on without top playmaker Riyad Mahrez. The Algeria international made his long-sought jump to Manchester City, with the Foxes wrangling a £60 million transfer fee from the reigning champions after a deal fell through in January.

The jury remains out on manager Claude Puel despite guiding Leicester City to a top-half finish following the sacking of Craig Shakespeare. The Foxes won just five of their final 21 (5-6-10) league matches, and filling Mahrez’s role may require multiple players.

James Maddison is expected be first in line, but another option is Mahrez’s compatriot Rachid Ghezzal, who has been reunited with Puel from their Lyon days after a £12 million transfer from Ligue 1 side AS Monaco on Sunday.

“I know the coach and I know his work and I like it,” Ghezzal told Leicester City’s official website. “I want to be here. It’s a good club with many ambitions and many great players. I think I will make a great season.”

Two of those “great players” – defender Harry Maguire and striker Jamie Vardy – may not be available after playing for England. Maguire boosted his stock immensely in that run to the semifinals while in Russia, with Leicester City valuing the centre back at £65 million and rebuffing United’s advances.

Leicester City were active in the summer window, adding promising attacking midfielder Maddison from Norwich City and right back Ricardo Pereira – who played for Puel at Nice – from FC Porto for nearly £50 million combined. The Foxes added to their depth in central defense with veteran Jonny Evans from relegated West Bromwich Albion.

If Vardy – a 20-goal scorer last term – is unavailable, Puel has Kelechi Iheanacho to lead the line. He was on Nigeria’s roster for the World Cup, but fellow Super Eagle Ahmed Musa left for Saudi side Al-Nassr last Saturday. Shinji Okazaki and Islam Slamini remain options as a second striker for Puel.

This is the second straight season Leicester City are playing the league’s Friday night opener, having lost 4-3 at Arsenal in 2017-18. Manchester United are unbeaten in the last seven between the teams (4-3-0), though Maguire rescued a point for the 10-man Foxes with a stoppage-time equaliser that resulted in a 2-2 draw at King Power Stadium on Dec. 23.

United are unbeaten in their last nine (7-2-0) at Old Trafford versus Leicester City since a 1-0 defeat Jan. 31, 1998, and 15-7-2 in the Premier League era. The Red Devils are also 19-5-2 in Premier League home openers, losing only to Everton in 1992 and Swansea City in 2014.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Manchester United are a solid favorite at 4/9 odds to win, while Leicester City check in at 6/1. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 3/1.

50628.jpg

Sanchez offers a good return at 10/3 odds as the first goal-scorer and 6/5 odds as anytime scorer, and his industry offers a good chance of the match’s first goal being scored on a defensive breakdown by Leicester City. That rates him as a better option than Rashford (7/2) and Juan Mata (11/2) among likely United starters for first goal-scorer.

The Chilean has four goals in six lifetime matches versus the Foxes but none in the last three since banging a hat trick in Arsenal’s 5-2 win at King Power Stadium in the 2015-16 season.

A potential parlay could be taking both teams to score (27/10) with a 2-1 Manchester United scoreline (15/2). While he is listed on the right flank of the 4-3-3, it would not be surprising to see Mata track back into the middle of the park to link with Fred and Herrera, giving Rashford the opportunity to use his pace to run at defenders and create scoring chances.

PREDICTION

Both sides are far from a finished product, but both defensive midfielders — Wilfred Ndidi for Leicester City and Andres Perreira — are both going to have to put in heavy shifts to put out fires in front of their back lines. Ndidi has grown into this role since the Foxes parted ways with Kante, while Andres Perreira has not had as many opportunities to do so since Matic stepped into the role last season.

Also of note is how Lindelof transitions to right back for this match after a summer of manning a centre back spot for Sweden if Valencia is unable to play. United will do well to work through Sanchez on the left as it serves the double effect of pinning back Ricardo Perreira on the right.

It seems likely both Lukaku and Vardy will be introduced as match-changers for the final half-hour depending on the scoreline, and it would not be surprising to see Maguire starting the match despite Puel’s claims the England duo will not be in the first XI. Given how last season’s lid-lifter was a chaotic seven-goal affair, there should be multiple goals and another win for the home side.

Prediction: Manchester United 2, Leicester City 1