Manchester United entertained Crystal Palace at home in their opening game of the season. Palace had won their opening game after a 1 nil win last week. United lined up with a Pogba/McTominay combo in the middle flanked by Rashford and James with Fernandes in behind Martial. David De Gea started in goal perhaps unsurprisingly.
Very rarely do we see a team like Palace go to Old Trafford with a sense of promise. Credit to their manager Roy Hodgson. Palace started on the front foot and were rewarded early when they scored via a cross from Jeff Schlup. Worrying for United was the manner in which it came. Schlup made short work of Lindelof on the flank and crossed past 3 United players only for Townsend to beat them all with the finish. Moments later another poor piece of defending by Lindelof nearly allowed Zaha in after a half hit back pass.
The visitors were certainly up for this game and were adventurous enough to press the United midfield and defence high. Pogba in particular was targeted in the first 20mins as he gave up early possession. But as the half settled down Palace began to sit deeper and gave up territory.
United were struggling to break down the visiting defence which was guarded by a midfield 5. Brief exchanges with Pogba and Martial seemed their best way of opening them up with Rashford and James both starved of possession. United having not played the week before seemed to suffer from a stop start pre season. This was not the United we seen post Covid.
Mason Greenwood entered the fray on the half and this was a much needed change. He had to wait 10 mins to make an impact however after a cross to the back post found him isolated. Unfortunately he could only direct the header wide. But United were still not firing. Pogba gave way to New signing Van De Beek but in truth it could have been either of the middle men.
Penalty converted by Fernandez. Not quite! On 70 mins Palace lead one of many counter attacks into the heart of the United defence. Jordan Ayew drove into the box and shot onto the hand of the hapless Lindelof. The referee this time viewed the footage and gave the penalty. Ayew delayed the kick and De Gea saved smartly. But drama was not over as Var intervened. The keeper having judged to move off his line. Harsh. This time Zaha stepped forward and smashed into the top corner.
Fightback – maybe not.
United perhaps now feeling hard done by finally sparked into action. Greenwood stuck wide and this created space. A cross into the box misjudged by Sahko was spilled to Van de Beek and the Dutchman dispatched with ease.
With 10 mins to grab an equiliser we’re used to seeing a swashbuckling attempt to rescue points. But this game was never going to go to script. The mismatch of speed with the Palace counter mixed with a very unlikely partnership of Lindelof and Maguire was always going to bear fruit. Zaha was fed by Eze and the game was put to bed with a smart finish into the bottom right.
This was not a smash and grab today. Palace were a team with a defined mission. Their midfield swarmed all over United and suffocated their attacking intent. Width was of a premium here and no matter what they tried the Palace defenders had the answer.
I’ll not be too hard on United as mentioned previously they’ve not had the best pre season campaign. But this was perhaps a wakeup call for the hierarchy. Victor Lindelof is as poor a defender as there’s been in the last 20 years. The lack of pace with him and Maguire is a huge concern. Luke Shaw cannot be considered the future at fullback and United despite looking for Sancho really need to address these issues.
But the midfield has got to be the highest priority. How you can have World Cup Winner Pogba and Portuguese performer Fernandez and still not create a multitude of great performances? Palace were industrious with McCarthy and McArthur but they had purpose going forward with a view to get Zaha and Ayew in 1 to 1 situations. All in all there’s more to come from both sides. But perhaps this will convince the powers that be at Old Trafford to get some deals over the line.