Premier League preview: Manchester United vs. Leicester City

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  • Man United (9 points): 7th in PL, 6 points off the lead
  • Leicester (7 points): 11th in PL after slow start
  • 1-1 draw in this fixture last season

Three losses in a week — two in the Premier League, one in the Europa League — with only an EFL Cup victory over League 1 side Northampton Town to counteract. Jose Mourinho will be desperately hoping to see his Manchester United side bounce back from his first setback at the club when Leicester City visit Old Trafford on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), before the negativity currently surrounding the Red Devils snowballs and 2016-17 ends up looking like 2015-16 all over again for the Portuguese.

The defense always seemed a likely cause for concern this season, and that’s certainly been the case as Mourinho’s men conceded six times in the losses to Manchester City, Feyenoord and Watford last week. Perhaps just as worrying, they found the back of the net just twice, and enter Sunday’s encounter with the defending champions without a clear first-choice attacking unit. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcus Rashford have combined to scored six league goals thus far — the latter of which has grabbed his two in just 154 minutes of on-field time — while the rest of the squad has managed two as a whole (one each for Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata).

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Leicester’s slow start — just one point from their first two games, but two wins in their last three — had as much to do with the departure of N'Golo Kante as anything else. With the French midfielder off to Chelsea for $40 million in the summer, manager Claudio Ranieri finds himself still in search of an all-action, do-everything replacement in the heart of midfield.

Islam Slimani enjoyed a dream debut for the Foxes last weekend, scoring twice against Burnley as his new side cruised to a 3-0 victory at the King Power Stadium. Even for the $36 million Leicester paid Sporting CP for the Algerian this summer, that’s a decent immediate return on investment. With Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez combining to score just three times through five games, the best is still yet to come from Leicester in 2016-17.

INJURIES: Man United — OUT: Phil Jones (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Anthony Martial (concussion), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (thigh), Luke Shaw (groin) | Leicester — RETURNING: Kasper Schmeichel (concussion), Nampalys Mendy (ankle)

What they’re saying

Mourinho, on football’s Einsteins: “I know that some football Einsteins – football is full of Einsteins – I know that they tried to delete 16 years of my career. They tried to delete an unbelievable history of Man United football club and to focus on a bad week with three bad results. But that’s the new football – it’s full of Einsteins. I can understand clearly the disappointment if the fans are disappointed with the last week. I understand completely, but I’m sure that with the team going back home, they will be behind the team like they always are.”

Claudio Ranieri, on Mourinho feud: “It’s prehistoric, not now. It was a long time ago, I’m OK. He’s a great manager and a fantastic person. Maybe he will offer me a good red wine. I love red wine and if he offers I will go and drink it with him. Mourinho is a fantastic manager, intelligent, clever. He is OK.”

Prediction

Neither side has realized its identity for the 2016-17 season as of yet, thus a frustratingly choppy affair seems on the cards this weekend. If Leicester can defend deep and hit quickly on the counter — as they did all of last season — Man United will be in big trouble. A point for either side, 1-1.

Leicester City’s Rodgers: ‘Good news’ on Vardy injury

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Brendan Rodgers says there’s good news when it comes to the injury suffered by Jamie Vardy in Leicester City’s 4-1 blowout of West Ham United on Wednesday.

Vardy hurt his glute in the win, temporarily returning to the match after treatment from the trainer but ultimately subbing off before halftime.

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“It wasn’t his hamstring, so that’s good news for us,” Rodgers said, via The Leicester Mercury.

“He just felt a twinge in his glute, so we just have to wait and see on that in the next day or so. Thankfully his hamstring is okay and he just felt some pain in his glute, so we will have to assess that over the next few days.”

Vardy has a Premier League-best 17 goals, one more than Man City’s Sergio Aguero.

He was replaced by Kelechi Iheanacho, who assisted one of Ayoze Perez’s two goals on the day. Perez’s seven goals are second on Leicester, while James Maddison‘s six are third.

Iheanacho has six goals and three assists in 485 minutes and there’s reason to believe he can feast off Leicester’s playmaking if Vardy needs a match or two to heal.

Whether he can fill Vardy’s shoes in the long-term is a big question, especially as Leicester aims to return for the Champions League.

Transfer rumor roundup: Willian Jose to Spurs, Bournemouth after Croatian CB

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London could get itself another Willian.

Willian Jose, 28, was left out of Real Sociedad’s squad at his request on Wednesday, with the club Tweeting that he’d prefer not to play until his situation is resolved.

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Jose Mourinho said he would not comment on another team’s players, but Willian Jose could help Spurs bridge the gap to Harry Kane‘s return.

Willian Jose has been a double-digit scorer for Real Sociedad in La Liga for the previous three seasons, and is well on his way to another 10-goal campaign. He’s got eight goals in 20 matches this season.

Bournemouth needs defensive help, and is reportedly rivaling Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers for Portuguese giant Toni Borevkovic.

The 22-year-old Croatian has one goal in just over 3000 minutes with the side since arriving from domestic side NK Rudes.

He’s averaging 1.3 interceptions, .9 tackles, and 3.3 clearances per game in league play.

Rio Ave sits seventh in Portugal’s top flight and is managed by former Premier League boss Carlos Carvalhal.

Dropped points in Top Four race point to wild February

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Regardless of whether Wolves end Liverpool’s unbeaten Premier League season on Thursday, there will be five teams within seven points of fourth place heading into Matchweek 25.

Chelsea has 40, a comfortable-enough six-point lead on Manchester United, Spurs, and Wolves (who meet Liverpool at 3 p.m. ET Thursday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com). Sheffield United has 33 points.

February, specifically the next three matchweeks, will see the teams inside that group learn a lot more about their fates, and give Chelsea and Sheffield United big opportunities to cement their places in the Top Four and Seven, respectively.

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In the case of the latter, it’s because the Blades are the only team in the bunch who don’t face a Top Four six-pointer; Chris Wilder‘s men will meet Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, and Brighton, while the others will be beating up each other.

Chelsea’s path is fraught, but a big opportunity. The Blues travel to Leicester City before hosting both Manchester United and Spurs. Nine points there would effectively Top Four-proof Frank Lampard‘s side.

By the way, how’s this for a hot take? If any of Chelsea, Man Utd, or Spurs find their center forward or playmaker help in the window, they’ll have a leg up on their Top Four rivals. And, really, is that extra few million pounds worth the spoils of the Champions League? Yup.

Bruno Fernandes is not (yet) with United, and the Red Devils face Wolves and Chelsea in their next two matches. Spurs have City and Chelsea. Tumult is probable!

A draw with Newcastle and loss at Watford dampened Wolves’ hopes of riding into fourth. Beginning with Thursday’s visit from Liverpool, however, Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men face three of the Top Seven and then a visit from Norwich City. It’s not over.

And don’t entirely rule out Leicester City from dropping into the fray; The Foxes host Chelsea and Man City, and visit Wolves.

One more nod, however improbable: Arsenal sits 10 points back of fourth but meets Burnley, Newcastle, and Everton over those three match weeks. A perfect run could have the Gunners thinking big (Man City is after that, alas).

Matchday 25
Leicester City v. Chelsea
Crystal Palace v. Sheffield United
Manchester United v. Wolves
Spurs v. Man City

Matchday 25
Sheffield United v. Bournemouth
Wolves v. Leicester City
Chelsea v. Manchester United
Aston Villa v. Tottenham Hotspur

Matchday 27
Chelsea v. Tottenham Hotspur
Leicester City v. Man City
Wolves v. Norwich City
Sheffield United v. Brighton
Manchester United v. Watford

Spurs play Wolves the next week, too!

Mourinho: Spurs don’t have attacking depth, but do have ‘family’

Mourinho on Spurs win
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In this “whole new Jose Mourinho” world, the key word is family.

Mourinho said it six times in his post-match presser after Tottenham Hotspur scrapped to a 2-1 defeat of Norwich City on Wednesday in London.

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Spurs had an early lead disappear when Ryan Sessegnon gave away a penalty to Max Aarons, and Teemu Pukki converted it for a 70th-minute deadlock.

Heung-Min Son scored nine minutes later. It was a win that is good for the whole family.

From Football.London:

“It was fantastic what happened after the 1-1, which happens in a difficult moment for us where I look to the bench and I don’t have attacking players to change the game the team is a little bit fatigued, especially Lucas, Son and of course Lamela. I took him off because he was in trouble and he is a player who is coming from very important and long injury, so very difficult.

“How can we change the game? With the family spirit, the family character and desire.”

Mourinho also praised Giovani Lo Celso‘s work on the wing for attack-short Spurs as “a good experience for the family,” and Paulo Gazzaniga‘s support for returned goalkeeper Hugo Lloris as “a good member of the family and he is such a special friend of Hugo.”

I mean, I’m getting the warm and fuzzies.

Clearly, Mourinho is stressing unity and there’s a bit of bunker mentality involved, as the manager mentioned some dicey calls not going their way against Watford, Liverpool, and now Norwich.