Manchester United v Leeds United: Bielsa's boys to start strongly

One of English football's fiercest rivalries resumes this weekend, and Kevin Hatchard believes Leeds United can do their city proud...

Manchester United v Leeds United
Sunday 20 December, 16:30
Live on Sky Sports Premier League

Erratic Man Utd continue to confound

It has become extremely difficult to work out exactly where Manchester United are at right now in their development. Avowed acolytes of manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will tell you that a young side has made great strides, and despite some bumps in the road, the Red Devils are on the right track. Others will point to the extraordinary collapse in the Champions League group stage, and a slew of slow starts and avoidable defeats. Ole's at the wheel, but which way is the car going?

It's not unusual to see an inconsistent United fail to find consistency even within the same match. An horrendous mistake from goalkeeper Dean Henderson put them on the back foot against his old club Sheffield United, but then Solskjaer's side played some lovely football (Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford produced some jaw-dropping moments) and surged into a 3-1 lead. They then gave up a scruffy goal at a set play, and were left clinging on.

There is even a divide between United's home and away form. In the Premier League, they have put together a stunning sequence of 10 straight away victories. At Old Trafford, they have won once in eight top-flight games, and that was a deeply unconvincing 1-0 success against West Brom.

They have failed to score in three of their last four PL games on home soil, and their last four top-division outings have featured one goal or no goals at all.

David De Gea could return in goal after Henderson's faux pas, while Luke Shaw and Scott McTominay are pushing for recalls. Veteran striker Edinson Cavani is expected to be in contention after injury.

Even without fans, Whites know meaning of old rivalry

It's truly a shame that the revival of an old football feud won't see Old Trafford packed to the rafters on Sunday, and there won't be any travelling supporters. This is a clash of counties, of old industrial powerhouses, of teams and fans that loathed each other and laughed at each other. The 1960s pitted Bobby Charlton against Jack Charlton, Matt Busby against Don Revie.

Between 1964 and 1974, Leeds United were top-flight title winners twice, and runners-up on five other occasions. Manchester United twice claimed the title in that decade. Later, a certain Eric Cantona would swap Elland Road for Old Trafford, and swell an already deep river of bad blood.

But while the Whites' empire eventually fell into disrepair, and the excesses that will be forever associated with former chairman Peter Ridsdale saw the club spiral into the third tier, and spend what must have seemed an eternity pressing their noses up against the Premier League glass. While they did so, their old foes from Old Trafford racked up trophy after trophy, championship after championship.

However, Leeds have a team and a manager to be proud of. Marcelo Bielsa understands the club, and knows just how important it is to at least avoid defeat in this game, to make a gesture of defiance. His side goes into the match on a high after a 5-2 demolition of Newcastle United, and although Leeds' progress this term has been far from linear (they have won five of their 13 games and lost six) they are competing well at this level. They are a healthy eight points clear of the dropzone, and are a hefty 22.0 in the Relegation market.

Defender Diego Llorente is injured, and Robin Koch is out long-term. Gaetano Berardi and Adam Forshaw are also on the sidelines.

Hosts can't be trusted at odds-on

Manchester United's modest home record means their price of 1.7 to win this holds little appeal. Leeds have secured impressive wins at Aston Villa and Everton and their respectable display in defeat at Anfield means they certainly won't fear a visit to Old Trafford.

Leeds' only defeats by more than one goal on the road were at Crystal Palace and Chelsea, and Manchester United haven't even scored multiple goals in a Premier League home game yet this season. You can give Leeds a one-goal start on the Asian Handicap at 1.81, which means you only lose if Bielsa's team is defeated by more than one goal.

Leeds to strike first?

Another angle is to take advantage of Manchester United's propensity for slow starts. The Red Devils have conceded the first goal in five of their last six games in all competitions, while Leeds have scored first in four of their last five away matches. They have scored a first-half goal in their last three top-flight outings.

You can back Leeds in the First Goal market at 17/10 on the Sportsbook, or if you want to be more conservative on the same theme, back Leeds/Draw Half Time Double Chance at 8/13.

Keep an eye on Fernandes and Raphinha

It feels like a public service announcement to recommend backing Manchester United midfielder Bruno Fernandes to score at any time at 2.3 on the Exchange. He has scored in four of his last eight appearances, and he does of course take penalties.

For Leeds, I've been really impressed by the pace, trickery and direct running of Raphinha recently, and he seems to have settled in quickly since arriving from Rennes. The Brazilian is an attractive 4.9 to score, while nine-goal top scorer Patrick Bamford has scored at Anfield and Stamford Bridge. Six of his nine goals have come on the road, and he's trading at 2.86 to find the net.

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