Leicester City-Man U Betting Preview: Can Foxes Pull A Stunner On Opening Night?
Pictured: Kelechi Iheanacho
Betting Odds: Manchester United vs. Leicester City
- Manchester United: -196
- Leicester City: +726
- Draw: +321
- Over/Under: 2.5 (Over +103/Under -118)
- Kick-off: Friday, 3:00 p.m. ET
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The Premier League season kicks off with a Friday Night Football encounter between Manchester United and Leicester City at Old Trafford in Manchester, England.
It is no surprise that United are favorites to pick up the three points, but things do not look like they will be straightforward for the Red Devils in this match — and likely for the first couple of weeks of the new campaign.
The turmoil surrounding the United squad starts with their mercurial manager “The Special One” Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese has spent much of the summer complaining about how the World Cup has basically wiped away his preseason.
Players like Paul Pogba (who is still being bandied about in the transfer rumor mill), Romelu Lukaku, Marouane Fellaini and Jesse Lingard just met up with the team in recent days and — at the very least — will not be up to speed for the opener.
That compounds an already lingering problem for Mourinho as several key players are battling injury. Nemanja Matic is out, Ander Herrera is doubtful and nobody knows what the deal is with Anthony Martial. Even if Pogba, Lukaku and Lingard do play, there are still plenty of holes in this side that can be exploited.
Last year, Mourinho’s approach was to basically get a goal and then park the bus. It was effective to the extent that United finished second, but they outran their underlying metrics and regression seems likely. Not to mention, this is Manchester United so playing that brand of soccer hasn’t made Mourinho very popular among supporters.
With a depleted squad, I don’t expect Mourinho to throw caution to the wind on Friday and that could turn this game into a bit of a stalemate. Claude Puel’s Leicester City are most comfortable as a counterattacking side and with United’s disjointed feel, they could have plenty of chances to pick the ball and be on their merry way.
It will be easier said than done for the Foxes, though, as they will be without two of their best players, striker Jamie Vardy and centerback Harry Maguire, for at least the start of the game.
Fortunately, there is enough cover at both ends of the pitch that the loss of the two England internationals can be mitigated. In the back, Johnny Evans slides over from West Brom and will be in charge of keeping things tidy.
Evans’ burden will be eased by the presence of perhaps Leicester’s most important player, Wilfred Ndidi. The 21-year-old central midfielder is an expert ball-winner and can spring counters in the blink of an eye. His job will be to turn the ball over and get it to fellow 21-year-old, James Maddison.
The rising English playmaker had a terrific season in the Championship last year and his creativity and precision should blend well in Puel’s counterattacking set up.
Ahead of Maddison will be Kelechi Iheanacho. Yet another 21-year-old, Iheanacho has been around the Premier League since 2015, coming up through Manchester City’s ranks before moving on to the King Power Stadium.
Iheanacho has yet to hit the marks many put ahead of him after leading the Premier League in goals per minute in 2015-16, but his underlying numbers remained strong last year even though he didn’t get all that much time on the field.
Last year, Iheanacho finished with the 12th-best expected goals in the league per 90 minutes (min. 800 minutes played, per Understat), ahead of Lukaku, Lingard and Sadio Mane. The Nigerian should see plenty more of the field this year and has been on fire in the preseason, so he could be the difference maker.
There may never be a better time to play Manchester United away. The squad is thin, the manager is in utter loon mode and they frankly aren’t as good as the odds suggest.
History also points to the value being with the visitors. According to Bet Labs, since 2012 road underdogs have gone 14-25 for +40.71 units in Week 1. Furthermore, big underdogs (+270 or longer) have been a great bet early in the season going 26-101 but +38.9 units in the month of August.
Current odds are implying that Leicester have an 11.8% chance of winning this game. Maybe those odds are appropriate when United is clicking, but right now I think they are vastly underestimating Leicester’s chances in this match. Taking Leicester City in this contest is not a bet you expect to win, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t the right bet to make. Give me some of Leicester at +726.