Manchester United can turn their title hopes into reality with victory at Leicester… but the Foxes will be hoping to land a Boxing Day blow with Jamie Vardy in the form of his life, while making it a miserable homecoming for Harry Maguire
- Manchester United travel to Leicester City for the early kick off on Boxing Day
- Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men are unbeaten in seven and won six of those
- Win at Leicester and United will go two points off the top with a game-in-hand
- Sportsmail examines the clash which could yet define United’s title credentials
Whisper it quietly, but Manchester United have pieced together a run in recent weeks which has all the hallmarks of a team seriously shaping up to have a stab at winning the title.
The 15-match mark is about to be reached in England’s top flight as the festive period beckons, and United are unbeaten in their last seven fixtures, having won six of those.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side look to have entered something of a purple patch at the perfect time and, it’s important to highlight, they sit only five points off the summit having played a game fewer than rival sides.
Brendan Rodgers and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will do battle in the Boxing Day early fixture
Now, however, with hype and expectation building all around, the Red Devils meet their first of a series of tough obstacles in the shape of Leicester City.
Brendan Rodgers’ men have lofty ambitions of their own, and will enter the Boxing Day showdown knowing victory will not only open breathing space between themselves and United, but provide a confidence-boosting push to within a hair of league leaders Liverpool.
With the stakes cranked up and so much opportunity for progression on the line, Sportsmail takes a closer look at the fixture both sides will be desperate to win.
Man in form
United know all about form right now, but one man who has seemingly not had an off spell for the last 12-months or longer is Jamie Vardy.
Leicester’s talisman is aging like a fine wine, and still has pace to burn despite preparing to turn 34 in just over a fortnight.
Vardy has 11 goals and four assists to his name in the league this season, after just 11 matches played. He’s averaging one goal every 100 minutes and shows no sign of slowing down.
Vardy is likely to be crucial to Leicester’s approach, given United relish the chance to play counter-attacking football.
Jamie Vardy is aging like a fine wine and is averaging one goal every 100 minutes so far
Under Solskjaer it is what the Red Devils know best, though in Vardy Rodgers has an ideal tool to combat this.
The electric pace and frenetic movement of the veteran striker is likely to see United arrive at the King Power Stadium with an air of caution; counter with too much commitment and Vardy’s ability to run behind at pace could be a killer.
Several weeks ago, before United ironed out multiple teething problems, their naivety to commit a full side forward saw a hugely embarrassing undoing against Istanbul Basaksehir in the Champions League.
Leicester are even more explosive on the the turn that the Turkish outfit, meaning there is little room for error for United come Saturday’s early kick-off.
Vardy is hunting down the golden boot once more with vicious intent, and any Christmas hangover or mistakes will be duly seized upon.
It’s been quite some year for Harry Maguire, but now the big central defender seems to be back on the happier side of life.
Summer controversy on the Greek island of Mykonos is behind him and Maguire has been able to eradicate careless mistakes from his game which plagued the early part of his ill-prepared season.
Confidence is back and so too with it is the player United saw when they succumbed to Leicester demand’s and paid a world record fee to sign him.
Harry Maguire returns to his old stomping ground with lots of minutes under his belt already
LAST FIVE PREMIER LEAGUE MEETINGS
26 July 2020: Leicester City 0-2 Manchester United
14 September 2019: Manchester United 1-0 Leicester
3 February 2019: Leicester 0-1 Manchester United
10 August 2018: Manchester United 2-1 Leicester
23 December 2017: Leicester 2-2 Manchester United
The only issue for United is that Maguire has lots of football in his legs already. The England international has played 19 matches in total so far, and every single minute of United’s league campaign.
He returns to his old stomping ground on Saturday as a man with lots to prove, having gained worldwide acclaimed as captain of United.
But returning to a former club has been known to have adverse effects on a footballer, one only needs to look at United ‘keeper Dean Henderson’s return to Bramall Lane to see a perfect example.
In Maguire United have a robust defender who will put his body on the line, though is not the quickest when it comes to a smash-and-grab footrace.
The combination of Vardy’s pace and the creative string-pullers of James Maddison and Youri Tielemans sitting just behind will therefore pose real concern, especially as lactic begins to build in what are Maguire’s already overworked legs.
The United skipper will have to be on his A-game and remind Leicester of exactly why they were reluctant to relinquish his services.
The fixture will not only be a test of United’s form, but also their endurance.
Leicester will enter the match having had six days of rest, in comparison to United’s two.
Solskjaer’s side have played an additional game to Leicester this month, and though it has certainly helped both confidence and momentum the rigors of the Premier League can take its toll.
In two of their last three matches – against Everton and Brighton – Leicester have carried the lion’s share of possession.
United, given how they have set up against strong opponents so far this term, are likely to offer up this majority statistic to the Foxes once again at lunchtime on Saturday.
For all its virtues – such as allowing the opposition to pick themselves apart with careless errors before crafting a quick counter – what United’s key tactic does require is a whole lot of running.
Leicester have had six days of rest and recovery time ahead of the match, unlike United’s two
Of their last three leagues fixtures, against Leeds, Sheffield United and local rivals Manchester City, United were only out-ran by Marcelo Bielsa’s men.
To keep up with an opposition holding possession and orchestrating their key counter-attacking moments, United must remain fleet-footed and cover ground.
Wednesday night’s Carabao Cup quarter-final victory against Carlo Ancelotti’s Everton may have been cause for celebration, but the likes of Maguire, Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba each put their bodies through 90 minutes plus added time.
To see out the game Solskjaer also turned to Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, meaning each key member of his attacking ensemble and his two best midfielders exerted themselves in the brisk Merseyside showdown.
History on the red side
The clash is undoubtedly a huge one for United, with a potential victory set to be the perfect dopamine hit before facing Nuno Espirito’s Santo’s Wolves three days later.
Solskjaer will be quietly aware that United’s away form has been much the stronger this season, with the Red Devils seemingly performing free of pressure when outside of Old Trafford’s historic stands.
Of their seven home matches in the league so far this season, Leicester have won only three times.
In comparison, of United’s games on the road this season, Solskjaer’s side have won five times from a possible six.
It’s mightily impressive and, coupled with recent history, all bets would be stacked on United to win this one.
Not since 2017 have Leicester took points from United and it was Maguire who sealed the draw
Of the last five Premier League meetings between these two sides, United have won each of the last four and drawn the fifth; the latter of which also happened to fall in the festive period (December 23, 2017).
It is not since that 2017 festive fixture that Leicester have got anything out of this meeting, and on that occasion it was none other than Maguire who rescued the point for the Foxes with a 94th minute stoppage-time header.
For whatever reason Leicester always seem to come unstuck against United, and have a mental block when it comes to going up against them.
Christmas is said to be the time of good tidings and Rodgers and his men will certainly be hoping so come the first whistle.
Should United prevail, whispers of a title tilt will gain in decibels.
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