An age-old rivalry will be renewed in the Premier League this Sunday as Manchester United and Leeds United face off at Old Trafford.
Both sides come into the game off the back of important comeback wins in midweek, providing hope in what have been frustrating campaigns for different reasons. Leeds are inconsistent in general while Man Utd are poor at Old Trafford and sharp on the road.
Man Utd vs. Leeds betting favourites:
- Man Utd to win: 7/10
- Draw: 16/5
- Leeds to win: 7/2
But they both know that a win in this cross-Pennine derby could give their side a big boost ahead of the fury of the festive fixtures. So the spared-no-expense might of Man Utd’s squad will take on Marcelo Bielsa’s well-coached wonders.
With all that in mind, we’ve taken a look and come up with five predictions for Manchester United vs. Leeds United.
1. Man Utd will line up like…
Man Utd have been fairly fortunate with injuries this season and, as things stand, only Edinson Cavani is a doubt among those in the first-team picture.
In the midweek win over Sheffield United, Man Utd did make a few changes from their usual first XI, including a start in goal for Dean Henderson. However, the goalkeeper made an error in the build-up to the host’s opening goal and so David de Gea could return.
Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba also started in midfield, but Scott McTominay and Fred remain the favoured pairing, though the Frenchman may have played his way into starting contention with his wonderful assist for Anthony Martial’s goal.
2. Leeds will line up like…
Leeds remain without four players ahead of this key clash including centre-back Diego Llorente, who may be out until the new year.
Bielsa has made a name for himself through unorthodox formations, but in the Premier League this season he has opted for a more traditional four-man defence. Most recently it has been a 4-1-4-1 with Kalvin Phillips as the holding midfielder, to shield the back line and help bring the ball up. In attack, Patrick Bamford continues to prove his Premier League doubters wrong with seven goals on the road this season (including trips to Anfield and Stamford Bridge) and looks irreplaceable at present.
3. Wan-Bissaka to be exposed
When RB Leipzig eliminated Man Utd from the Champions League, they seemed to target Aaron Wan-Bissaka on the right-flank. This was mostly happenstance. Leipzig weren’t going after the Englishman so much as getting their most dangerous player, left-wing-back Angelino, onto the ball as often as possible. But the idea stuck and, even though Wan-Bissaka is one of the finest 1-v-1 defenders in the whole world, it did work (albeit thanks to Luke Shaw’s awful performance).
The thing is, Leeds could also target Wan-Bissaka, and not necessarily by throwing attacks at him. Rather, you can bet Bielsa has identified him as a weakness on the ball. Wan-Bissaka is a gifted defender but his passing could charitably be described as “average.”
According to Opta data from the 2020/21 Premier League season, he has played just one successful cross all season to achieve an accuracy rating of 7.69% and, defensively, it honestly feels like when pressured he gives it away as often as he finds a team-mate.
This will give Leeds and their ferocious pressing machine a trigger and target to win the ball high. They will funnel the ball to Wan-Bissaka and then swarm him into giving the ball away; and that will make life a living hell for Wan-Bissaka and Man Utd.
4. Bamford to stand out (for better or worse)
Only Jamie Vardy and Son Heung-min have scored more Premier League away goals this season than Patrick Bamford (AKA the Grantham Cavani), who may well have a field day at Old Trafford. The Leeds striker’s movement makes him damn-near impossible to pick up and that’s against organised sides. But against a side as prone to ramshackle nonsense as Man Utd, and up against two centre-backs with all the mobility of a chocolate digestive, it’ll be like Christmas has come early.
But on the other hand, Bamford has missed nine big chances so far this season, more than anyone else in the Premier League. Perhaps part of this is just how hard he works in pressing, so that when it comes for him to shoot he’s mentally and physically tired from all the defensive work and not sharp enough to convert things.
With Man Utd being all over the place defensively you can see Bamford getting lots of chances, but you can equally see Bamford missing those chances.
5. It will be 2012 revisited
Back in 2012, Marcelo Bielsa’s Athletic Club visited Old Trafford in the Europa League round of 32. Man Utd were fresh from being eliminated from the Champions League group stages but were also less than a year removed from a Champions League final appearance.
So you can imagine everyone’s shock when Athletic rocked up to Old Trafford and absolutely tore Man Utd to pieces. The scoreline was just 2-3 but the flow of the game was so utterly one-sided and afterwards Sir Alex Ferguson labelled them the hardest-working team in Europe.
Ferguson also added that Athletic had: “the highest stats of any team that has played at Old Trafford in the last 10 years, in terms of the distance run. That is great credit to the desire of the team.”
No one expected that to happen, but it did and it was absolutely mesmeric, and it will happen again on Sunday as Bielsa returns to the Theatre of Dreams for the first time in eight years.
This Man Utd side has a lot of potent weapons and don’t be surprised if Bruno Fernandes finds the back of the net (or sets Marcus Rashford up to do the same), but at the back they have repeatedly shown an inability to deal with fast, organised attacking sides. And that’s exactly what Leeds possess under Bielsa.
Man Utd’s defence is so rickety right now that it’s hard to see how they can keep Leeds out for 90 minutes; Man Utd’s best defender is likely to be the Leeds forwards and their profligate finishing. Moreover, the Red Devils’ home record is also absolutely diabolical, especially in the league where they have won just one of their six games while scoring only three goals.
All that combines to paint a bleak picture, but in general Marcelo Bielsa’s side will be so rampant, and their pressing game will be exactly the kind of thing that Man Utd have no ability to negotiate that you just can’t see Man Utd surviving this match against a team as well drilled and coherent as Leeds, especially as they will have had an extra 24 hours rest.
This will be 2012 revisited.