Manchester United: Picking a side for the visit of Leicester City

Revenge will be in the minds of the Manchester United fans – and perhaps even the players – as they pour into Old Trafford tomorrow, after last September’s incredible capitulation against Leicester City – the Foxes eventually running out 5-3 winners.

Much has changed since then, with Louis van Gaal’s side losing just two of their 17 Premier League games since the visit to the King Power Stadium. Leicester, on the other hand, have won just two, and are in danger of the relegation zone.

Here is a suggestion of how the Red Devils should line up tomorrow:

United line up vs Leicester.

Now, as far as squad selection goes, United have been as unpredictable as it gets. Injuries have not helped, of course, but Van Gaal’s attempts to enforce a 3-5-2 formation upon the side have not yielded pleasant rules. The fans against QPR the other week shouted ‘442, 442!’ from the stands in response to their side’s lack of creativity and penetration, and United must return to their comfort-zone fast. With the formation fixed*, let’s have a look at how the player selection fits:

*Disclaimer: Van Gaal will probably not go with this, and instead will stick with his favoured 3-5-2.

With Michael Carrick today confirmed as sidelined for four weeks through injury, the defensive midfield spot opens up once again, offering the chance for Daley Blind to move out of his place in defence – where he has played at both centre-back and left-back this season – and thus operate in a position where he is more suited, dictating the play and moving the ball forward.

Against Leicester, who offer a minimal threat going forward, it will be important to push forward up the field. Having Luke Shaw and Rafael on either side will offer the chance for Van Gaal’s side to move forward and attack Leicester’s flanks. The manager may decide to go with Antonio Valencia on the right, who will look to dart to the byline using his considerable pace and get some good crosses in the area.

The most obvious advantage of switching the formation, is to offer each individual the chance to play in their favoured position. In recent weeks, we have seen the considerable talents of Angel Di Maria completely wasted as he has been played as an out-and-out striker. I propose that United move Rooney forward, leaving the Argentine to pick up the ball in a deeper position and shall what he’s capable of with it at his feet.

United have struggled up front in recent weeks and despite the tens of millions of pounds worth of attack – that the media never cease to remind us all of on a daily basis – goals are a problem. As such, it’s hard to pick a strike-force, but I suggest that Van Gaal moves Wayne Rooney forward to support either Robin van Persie or Radamel Falcao. The United captain has proved his goal-scoring worth over the years, and although he is wonderful at dictating play from further back, his services are needed in front of goal.

In the no. 10 role, it is time for Juan Mata to prove himself over the remainder of the season. At home is where he normally shines, and despite being virtually anonymous in recent weeks he has shown glimpses of what he’s capable of – particularly when played in the right position. Allowing him this freedom just behind the two strikers will mean he can pick the ball up and either link up with the United forwards, or take the ball on himself. Either way, the Spaniard will be much more effective there.

It seems unlikely that United shall have as much of a problem with Leicester on Saturday, as they had in the reverse fixture – but, with this unpredictable United side still unsure of themselves this season, one would not count out Nigel Pearson’s Foxes.


Casino Royale by Ian Fleming (1953)

For many people, the 2006 film adaptation of Casino Royale – starring Daniel Craig in his début as Ian Fleming’s infamous spy – heralded an immersion into the world of James Bond. Fleming’s original novel, however, published over 50 years earlier in 1953, wonderfully introduces us to the chain-smoking, misogynistic character that became a phenomenon – even if it does have its faults.

Bond – the highly-focused 007 of the “Secret Service” – is tasked with bringing about the downfall of La Chiffre: paymaster for the mysterious SMERSH outfit, who he has betrayed; notorious brothel-investor; and member of the Russian secret service. Provided with funds from the Treasury, Bond must partake in a high-stakes game of baccarat at the Royale-les-Eaux casino in northern France in order to bankrupt La Chiffre. As it soon transpires, this is more than a game for money: Bond is playing for his life and the lives of those close to him.

Fleming provides us with a cast now oh-so-familiar to generations of spy thrill-seekers: Felix Leiter, a CIA operative that helps out in Bond’s most crucial time of need; and René Mathis of the French Deuxième Bureau, who proves to be entertaining foil for Bond’s often-meandering thoughts – as well as a competent radio-seller and efficient agent.

It is Vesper Lynd, however, that is supposed to really grab the reader’s attention, from the moment she appears in Fleming’s pages describing herself as the personal assistant of to Head of section S and explaining she has been sent from London to assist Bond. He is frustrated, of course – but also a little intrigued. Initially, only because he wants to sleep with her, and at stages the frank misogyny and anti-feminist rants in Casino Royale grind the gears of the reader, even if you bear in mind that the book was written over 50 years ago:

“This was just what he had been afraid of. These blithering women who thought they could do a man’s work. Why the hell couldn’t they just stay at home and mind their pots and pans and leave men’s work to the men. And now for this to happen to him, just when the job had come off so beautifully. For Vesper to fall for an old trick like that and get herself snatched and probably held to ransom like some bloody heroine in a strip cartoon. The silly bitch.”

Harmless, some might suggest, but as the novel rushes towards its exciting dénouement – packed with your usual twists and betrayals – the rants are distinctly noticeable, off-putting, and in this writer’s opinion, they detract from an otherwise engaging narrative.

At just over 200 pages, however, Casino Royale does whip along at a rate of knots, as the high-stakes game at the Royale-les-Eaux drastically tips out of control. Bond has underestimated La Chiffre and could pay the ultimate price as the mysterious SMERSH watches from the shadows. As events move him closer to Vesper, his thoughts take a sudden turn, and we are treated to a James Bond often unseen: tender and loving, as opposed to cruel and uncaring.

Fleming quickly puts that idea right though, in a breathlessly fascinating finale that leaves the reader wanting more. Ne t’inquiètes pas, as the French would say: there’s another eleven novels, and 007 has plenty of adventures left yet.