By Adam Joseph
No more talk, no more impatiently waiting, no more predictions or weekends without competitive football. Manchester United’s new era under José Mourinho begins today as the Red Devils head to Wembley to take on the Premier League Champions, Leicester City.
The Portuguese boss has his squad fully fit and available for the season opener (Paul Pogba aside), with a disrupted preseason not providing the ideal platform for his new charges to take into their first big test together under Mourinho’s direction.
There is a buzz returning to the club. A fear of their power, their financial muscle and reach in the market, as well as a squad that has slowly started to shore up the weaknesses that have crippled it through the past three seasons.
Eric Bailly the first signing of the summer may make his official debut, and has impressed so far. The club are still hunting for an experienced defender (such as Ezequiel Garay or Jose Fonte), so it might be the Ivorian debutant partnering the returning Chris Smalling in the middle of defence.
Antonio Valencia has had a strong start to the campaign (with three assists against Galatasaray in particular) and may gain the berth at right back, though Matteo Darmian remains a possible starter. Luke Shaw is a certainty at left back.
Midfield choices will be interesting, and it is somewhat hard to decipher who will be picked as the club’s starting midfield axis. It’ll be a key focus early in the season, with another “very good” midfielder (who could that be!?) set to join the squad in the coming days.
Morgan Schneiderlin and Ander Herrera in particular have a chance to cement claims as important first team players early in the season when competition for places will be fierce but available.
Wayne Rooney will almost certainly Captain the side and will start the game from the number ten role, with the talismanic presence of Ibrahimović likely to lead the line. Anthony Martial and the brilliant Armenian Henrikh Mkhitaryan are likely to flank the pair of forwards, as Mourinho’s brilliant recruits all look set to get their chance to make their first competitive starts.
The team’s tactical set up is no guarantee, though Mourinho’s pattern tactically hasn’t wavered too much over the years. The versatility given to the new squad with the range of options in the front line can make them unpredictable however, and give them the options to game plan for the Champion Foxes.
Leicester may have lost their most important player in N’Golo Kante to Chelsea, but still possess their most potent attacking weapons in Riyad Mahrez (at least for now) and somewhat controversial hitman Jamie Vardy.
The Foxes needed to add depth to a team that was top heavy, with an impressive range of recruits brought in this summer by the club’s clever and in-depth scouting department. Polish attacking midfielder Bartosz Kapustka joined this week after making a stunning impression at the European Championships, though he likely won’t be ready to start quite yet.
Ron-Robert Zieler (a former United youth player) has signed up as Kasper Schmeichel’s understudy and competition, as Schmeichel also inked a new five year deal with the club this week. Luis Hernandez was signed on a free transfer from Sporting Gijon alongside young Spanish striker Raul Uche Rubio from Rayo Vallecano.
Big money was spent elsewhere though, as Nampalys Mendy was signed from Nice in Ligue 1, and will be an excellent replacement for the departed Kante. Ahmed Musa made an instant impression after joining from CSKA Moscow, netting two high quality goals against European heavyweights Barcelona last week.
It can be argued that despite the loss of one of Europe’s best all-action midfielders in the last year, the Foxes have improved their team overall. Barring the loss of any stars before the end of the transfer window, they should be able to show last season was no fluke.
Champions League football will complicate that challenge, though this is why the club have worked hard to consolidate the squad’s depth in the summer. It makes the Community Shield somewhat of a giant unknown for both teams, and perhaps that will create more excitement around a fixture that has somewhat lost it’s spark in recent times.
Fans of both clubs will be excited though, as mixed preseasons mean no team really knows what to expect come kickoff. Does the Mourinho era start with a victory?
Manchester United 2 – 1 Leicester City
Adam Joseph is a freelance writer from Australia. Manchester United fan from back when they were the only team on Australian TV and it was love at first sight. Manchester United, Oklahoma City Thunder, New England Patriots and Carlton Blues fanatic. If it’s sport related, I’ll talk about it.
Follow him on twitter @AdamJosephSport