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Saturday, September 18, 2021

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Manchester United will find out if their squad gamble has worked vs Leeds

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Fresh or stagnant?

There is a high possibility United’s most recent signing in their XI today is Harry Maguire, bought more than two years ago.

Despite a positive window, United’s squad is not in the desired state for the start of the season, a consequence of the inconsistent return times of internationals involved in summer tournaments.

Edinson Cavani has had almost six weeks off and Anthony Martial admitted in midweek he is a ‘few weeks’ away from full fitness. Daniel James is likelier to be on the flank than Jadon Sancho, inexplicably granted an extra week off.

Today’s result could vindicate or incriminate Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for his man-management.

Banana skin

Leeds are one of the worst teams the fixture computer could have had United play against on the opening weekend. Just seven of their players were at the European Championship – most barely had a kick – and Leeds are renowned for their fitness.

United’s first-half stroll against Everton last week was reassuring for their supporters in that the tempo and the intensity of their play was high. Bruno Fernandes, fatigued for much of last season, was fresh but Everton were lethargic. Leeds may scent blood.

Formation tweak

United started in a 4-2-3-1 against Everton but it morphed into a 4-3-3, with Donny van de Beek advanced and Nemanja Matic deep. Both were hooked at the pause, along with Fernandes, and the Portuguese and Matic are assured of starts.

Van de Beek is not but he may be the midfielder who makes United tick in a 4-3-3, the formation Ajax school their graduates in. The caveat is it would mean no room for Paul Pogba, a player United have indulged time and again.

Supersub Sancho?

Solskjaer suggested last week Sancho would be on the bench against Leeds and, however well James did against them last December, it was last December. James has seldom shone for his club in the last 18 months.

United fans have seen a winger emerge to settle the game on the opening weekend before and Sancho may have a similar role to play as Cristiano Ronaldo did against Bolton 18 years ago.

Added pressure

Old Trafford will host a capacity crowd for the first time in 17 months and, for the first time in four years, the supporters are expecting a championship challenge.

The adrenaline will whir more for players than last season. A crowd brings added support but also added pressure; cheer or jeers, applause or abuse.

This season is a truer gauge of this United squad’s quality and whether they can cope with the expectation.

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