MAN UTD host Leeds on Saturday. Jack Wright (@JackWright_BSB ) is on-hand to preview the match-up.
Manchester United vs Leeds | Saturday 14th May 2021, 12:30 | BT Sport
What a Saturday lunchtime we have in-store as Manchester United welcome Leeds United for a Premier League ‘War of the Roses' clash which really does make the mouth water!
It’s now four years without a trophy for the Red Devils and no title since 2013, a failure to end that drought this campaign will match their longest wait for silverware since1974!
To be fair to Ole Gunner Solskjaer, he has overseen some progression since taking the reins from Jose Mourinho in December 2018, however the expectation level has gone up a notch or two following the £73m arrival of Jadon Sancho with the addition of medal laden Raphael Varane expected imminently.
As for Leeds, their supporters will be delighted – and possibly a little relieved – that they will get to actually watch their team back in the Premier League after their team consolidated their place in the English top flight with an excellent ninth place finish following a painful 16-year absence.
The Whites’ opening fixture last season saw them visit Anfield where they fell behind and equalised three times in a 4-3 defeat which set the tone for the season ahead in which they: drew none of their road trips (W10, L9), scored more away than they did at Elland Road (34 – 28) however shipped 21 first half goals with only relegated West Brom conceding more.
A hefty contribution to that total was the four goals conceded in the opening period in this fixture last term – finding themselves 2-0 down with just three minutes on the clock with Solskjaer’s side going on to demolish the visitors 6-2 in a basketball style game – but the 0-0 in the reverse at Elland Road showed Marcelo Bielsa was in no mood for a repeat, and with the legendary Argentine adapting his style to some degree when necessary at the back end of last season I’m prepared to swerve a result or goals prediction.
With fans thrown into the mix this time round, one thing we can guarantee is a white-hot atmosphere in a game refereed by Paul Tierney who, from his 21 appearances, produced the fourth highest total of yellow cards in the EPL last season (82) but had the highest average per game for cards shown (3.90).
The bookies have set their line expecting around four cards here and it was a line that tempted me but not one I will be taking, instead I have identified a player that looks great value given the circumstances.
I have mentioned Manchester United’s main transfer business, but for Leeds alongside turning the Jack Harrison loan in to a permanent signing and adding back up keeper Kristoffer Klaesson the Yorkshire side swooped for Barcelona left-back Junior Firpo for a reported £13.5m.
Unfortunately for the 24-year-old he picked up a knock in pre-season which led to him missing the last two friendlies against Ajax and Villarreal, although he is fit again, given those absences, I am not expecting him to start at the Theatre of Dreams.
With the departure of last season’s left-back, Ezgjan Alioski and also Barry Douglas it has been Stuart Dallas that has been filling in – as he did on nine occasions last term.
It is likely Dallas’ direct opponent will be Mason Greenwood who missed out on this summer's Euros with a nagging groin issue but it looks like he's over that ahead of the new campaign, having started all of his side’s pre-season games and opening the scoring in the last, a 4-0 thumping of Everton.
It would also be no surprise to see the Old Trafford faithful given a glimpse of new signing Sancho with Solskjaer stating prior to this game “Jadon has come in and done very good this week. Maybe a little bit too early, I'll see how he is. I'd say you'll see him. He's definitely involved in the squad.” – all pointing to a tough afternoon at the office for Dallas.
The 30-year-old Northern Ireland international was carded seven times as an ever present in the last campaign, seeing yellow against Southampton, Liverpool, Manchester City and in both games with Leicester and Arsenal.
His average did creep up however in those seven outings at left-back, finding his way in to the referee's book twice, (Leicester and Manchester City) 22% – so the odds of 6/1 for Dallas to be carded (22/1 if you fancy it to be the first of the game), look way too good to pass up implying a probability of just 14% – given the occasion, atmosphere and opponents it looks a value play to me.
I feel Bielsa will view this as a good opportunity to play Manchester United, with his side fresh and able to implement his high energy, high pressing style of football to their best and knowing their opponents were slow out of the blocks last season.
The Red Devils lost 3-1 to Crystal Palace in their opening Old Trafford fixture last term and had to wait until their fifth home game to record a win – over a West Brom side who of course went on to be relegated, going on to keep just six clean sheets in their own stadium all season, despite finishing second.
Leeds will surely be geared up to attack the home side, which in turn will likely suit the hosts who will have the pace to counter attack, looking to break the high press – after all the Red Devils only had 41% of the ball in that big win last season.
However, as already mentioned whist expecting goals, I’m avoiding that market to instead take a nice price of 10/11 with Sky Bet on both sides winning at least four corners each, in a fixture where we could see play stretched and plenty of width.
We witnessed 24 flag kicks in this game last season with 11 for the home side and 13 for the visitors, throughout their home campaign Manchester United recorded four or more corners in 16 of their 19 fixtures while Leeds matched that also taking at least four in 16 road trips last season.
The EPL is back, and it’s is back with a bang, let us hope this game lives up to the expectation we have of it for our sake and for those, after 17 long months, who will make up the anticipated 75,000 attendance at Old Trafford.