Leicester City v Manchester United: Visitors to survive acid test
Leicester City and Manchester United face a winner-takes-all showdown, with a Champions League spot up for grabs. Kevin Hatchard believes United will end Leicester's dream...
Leicester City v Manchester United Sunday 26 July, 16:00 Live on Sky Sports Main Event
Foxes have earned their shot at the big time
Leicester City is a club that has become used to defying logic. Their Premier League title win in 2016 remains one of the greatest sporting successes of all time, and their thrilling run to the 2017 Champions League quarter-finals will also live long in the memory. Now the Foxes are in position to pull off another footballing miracle, as they are one win away from returning to European football's top competition.
If they beat Manchester United, a UCL spot is guaranteed, while a point will only be enough if Chelsea lose at home to Wolves. Had Leicester not started to tie up in 2020 like a fading long-distance runner, they would have sealed a top-four spot long ago. Since the turn of the year, Brendan Rodgers' side has taken just 20 points from 17 games, having harvested 42 points from the first 20. Failure to secure the glittering prize, having had it in their grasp for months, will be the cruellest cut.
Leicester's form at the King Power has become unreliable. They have only won four of their last 10 league games on home soil, although three of those successes have arrived in the last four attempts. Against the elite sides in the division, Leicester have been found wanting. Against teams in the current top six, the Foxes have managed four draws and five defeats.
Influential full-backs Ben Chilwell and Ricardo Pereira are still out, regular first-team defender Caglar Soyuncu is still suspended, and James Maddison is injured.
Solskjaer's reign reaches critical moment
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's first full season as Manchester United manager is moving towards its conclusion, and the next few weeks will determine how the Norwegian will be judged. There have been impressive highs - crosstown rivals Manchester City have been beaten three times in four attempts this term, and there have been victories against other big sides like Chelsea and Spurs. 18-year-old forward Mason Greenwood has repaid Solskjaer's faith by scoring 17 goals across four competitions, winter signing Bruno Fernandes has added dynamism and attacking quality to the midfield, and when United's turbo-charged attack does click it is a joy to watch.
There have however been some lows which show this project is far from completion. Sunday's feeble display against Chelsea in an FA Cup semi-final was unacceptable, no matter how much some United fans will claim it was a matter of prioritising the league. Would Sir Alex Ferguson have accepted such a trade-off? That game featured another blunder from declining goalkeeper David De Gea, who currently resembles a broken toy that no longer moves as it once did.
If you look at results in the Premier League, five of their eight defeats came against teams who are currently in the bottom eight, which suggests there is work to do in terms of concentration and consistency. There also has to be a leap in attack - United have the top five's worst goal tally, and the lowest Expected Goals figure in the top five.
But for all those issues, United are still on the brink of achieving their ultimate goal for this season, which is Champions League qualification. If they avoid defeat this Sunday, they will get their VIP ticket, and all of the positive financial implications attached. Should they fail, their only remaining route would be winning the Europa League, a tournament in which they are 3.15favourites.
Luke Shaw is battling to be fit, with Brandon Williams ready to deputise again at left-back if needed. Aaron Wan-Bissaka will return at right-back.
United to qualify in style
Manchester United are trading at 2.32to win this, and that's a price I'm happy to get involved with. As disturbing as United's recent performances against Chelsea and West Ham have been, they have big-game players like Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes, and I think they have enough speed on the counter-attack to cause problems for Leicester's depleted defence.
United have won their last three Premier League away games without conceding a single goal, while Leicester's record against other top-six sides is really poor for a team with Champions League ambitions. I'll back United to smash Leicester's dream.
Leicester's need for victory could lead to goals
If Chelsea fall behind early against Wolves, and a draw between Leicester and Manchester United would suddenly see them both finish above the Blues, there's an argument to say some intensity may leak from the match, but I can't see either team sitting back and taking that risk. The Foxes have to push for a victory to be certain, and I think that will open the game up.
This isn't a market I'm massively excited about, but 13 of Leicester's last 20 league games have featured three goals or more, and I'm leaning towards Over 2.5 Goals at 1.93.
Bruno to land knockout blow?
Bruno Fernandes has been excellent since arriving from Sporting in January, and he has scored in four of his last seven appearances. The Portuguese international will shoot from anywhere, and he takes penalties, so I'll gleefully back him to score here at 11/5. You could use the Same Game Multi feature on the Sportsbook to double up a United win and a Fernandes goal at combined odds of 4.70.
Of course, it would be remiss of me not to mention Leciester's chief goal-getter Jamie Vardy. The former England international has smashed in 23 league goals, and is currently the competition's top scorer. He is two goals clear of nearest challenger Danny Ings, and is trading at 1.17to win the Golden Boot. If you want to back Vardy to score here, he is priced at 6/4 on the Sportsbook.