Analysis

Focus: Why in-form Depay will be United's biggest threat against Leicester

The Dutchman's contribution to United's attacking style could cause problems for the table-topping Foxes, explains Alex Keble...

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Manchester United’s ability to create chances is showing tentative signs of improvement in recent weeks, with Louis van Gaal’s new formation against Watford representing a potentially important shift from the awkwardness of their attacking lines this season. Leicester’s defence remains too open at times; thus, the width and penetration of United’s Memphis Depay should be enough to lift them above the Foxes into top spot.

Leicester’s defence remains too open at times – the width and penetration of Depay should be enough to lift United above them into top spot

United’s formation at Watford was variously described as 4-2-2-2, 4-3-3, and 4-2-1-2-1 by reporters. The confusion surrounding its description is testament to the fluidity of their creative interchanges, making Van Gaal’s formation impossible to define in simplistic terms.

Jesse Lingard, Depay, and Juan Mata swapped positions (left, right, and centre-forward) throughout the match, with Mata helping Ander Herrera shift the ball out wide as frequently as possible. Adding width – to stretch Watford’s stubborn defensive shield – was a notable departure from the strategy employed throughout this season.

Stats Zone united

United’s passes in their last two league games, against West Brom (L) and Watford (R)

It is unclear whether Van Gaal will continue with this strategy now that Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial have returned from injury, but another dreary 0-0 in midweek playing 4-2-3-1 makes its return possible. If he does, Leicester will be vulnerable.

Claudio Ranieri’s team have conceded nine goals from central areas outside (or just inside) the box, reflecting the often-large gaps between centre-back and central midfield. Operating in these areas, both Herrera and Mata should be able to feed passes through the defence into Lingard and the in-form Depay, who both enjoy making diagonal runs from out wide.

Stats Zone leicester fouls

Note how frequently Leicester committed fouls and failed to make tackles in central areas against Arsenal

However, United average 7.7 key passes per game (17th in the league) and Leicester make more tackles and interceptions (55.8 per match) than any other team. This will not be an easy victory for the visitors. 

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