5 Observations from Manchester United 1-2 Crystal Palace
Manchester United suffered their first major setback of the Premier League this season, as the Red Devils went down 2-1 against Crystal Palace in what proved to be a humiliating result at home for Ole Gunnar Solakjaer’s side.
Having kicked off their campaign with a 4-0 drubbing of Chelsea followed by a decent 1-1 draw against Wolves, the fans at Old Trafford would have expected the home fixture against a struggling Palace unit to be three easy points up for grabs.
However, it turned out to be a different story altogether and United’s first slip-up early in the ongoing season was a warning to the fans that they shouldn’t expect things to take a dramatic turnaround overnight following a woeful run of form last campaign.
Daniel James looked to have rescued a point for United with his 89th-minute equaliser, cancelling out Jordan Ayew’s first-half opener, but the visitors had other ideas and Patrick van Aanholt’s stoppage-time winner handed the Eagles their first-ever Premier League victory over United.
Without further ado, let us analyse United’s unexpected debacle at Old Trafford in Round 3 of the Premier League this weekend.
1. United back to their old lacklustre ways
After a couple of promising displays against Chelsea and Wolves, it looked as if United’s heavy investment in the summer had solved all their problems, with the likes of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire starring at the back in the first couple of games.
That, however, changed dramatically against Palace and the centre-back pairing of Maguire and Victor Lindelof lacked any sort of conviction whatsoever.
Lindelof found himself regularly outjumped by the Palace attackers, which is a shame for a centre-back of his calibre.
Maguire, who looked rock-solid in the first two games, let the team down with his positioning for Ayew’s opener and when the likes of Wilfried Zaha and Jeffrey Schulpp drove forward with pace, United’s defenders didn’t look comfortable in dealing with them.
Moreover, Luke Shaw succumbed to injury once again after a good start, so United still have something to sort out as far as their defence is concerned.
2. Scott McTominay and Jesse Lingard aren’t good enough to start for United every week
Jesse Lingard’s poor touches and aimless passes elicited a few moans and groans from the Old Trafford crowd, so much so that assistant manager Mike Phelan had to regularly get off his seat to mentor him.
As evident from Solskjaer’s team selection since the second half of the previous campaign, the Norwegian prefers Lingard to the likes of Andreas Pereira and Juan Mata in the No.10 role in his 4-2-3-1 system. However, the fact that he is yet to score or assist a goal this term should raise some questions regarding his inclusion.
Scott McTominay, who has emerged as a key player for the Red Devils under Solskjaer, wasn’t as bad as Lingard in the 2-1 defeat but his inability to make an impact against teams that sit deep inside their own half was quite apparent.
Indeed, the youngster, who is certainly not a finished product by any means, has his limitations as a central midfielder and one cannot help but wonder if his place would have been in serious jeopardy had the Red Devils brought in a replacement for Ander Herrera this summer.
3. United need to sort out their set-piece duties
For the second time in a row, United’s failure to convert from the penalty spot proved to be a major impediment to securing three points, as Marcus Rashford spurned the opportunity to draw his team level in the second half after McTominay was tripped inside the box by Luka Milivojevic.
Rashford was given the nod ahead of Paul Pogba when it came to shouldering the responsibility of converting the spot-kick, given that the Frenchman had failed to grab his opportunity against Wolves. However, the youngster could only smash his effort against the inside of the post.
Apart from the penalty-taking duties, United also need to single out a specialist set-piece taker when it comes to direct free-kicks from outside the box.
Rashford’s knuckleball striking technique caught out goalkeepers several times last season but he showed against Palace that he isn’t consistent enough to deliver the goods every week, whilst Pogba was equally wasteful in that regard. Maybe, they are missing someone like Juan Mata.
4. James and Martial were the only positives
United threatened in patches over the course of the ninety minutes at Old Trafford but one would have expected them to create more chances from open play.
The lack of creativity on display was pretty disgusting and things could probably have been worse for the hosts had it not been for the pace and movement of Daniel James and Anthony Martial.
On a day where Rashford and Lingard looked completely out of sorts, Martial and James put their hands up and the duo certainly deserves plenty of credit for its performance.
Martial was arguably United’s best forward, creating opportunities with his clever turn of pace and slick passing, and the Frenchman was probably unlucky not to have earned his team a penalty when he was held back by a Palace defender inside the box.
James, on the other hand, continued his fine run of form in the Premier League and had a couple of really close shaves before eventually coming up with a sensational equaliser in the 89th minute. However, it wasn’t enough to save the blushes for his team.
5. A few players lost in the cold and de Gea’s woes
Solskajer’s enthusiasm to promote youngsters like Axel Tuanzebe, McTominay, Mason Greenwood and James has led to several of the established players missing out on a place in the matchday squad.
The centre-back duo of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, as well as Fred, who was one of the marquee signings last summer, seem to have slipped down the pecking order under Solskjaer, with the three players failing to make even a single matchday squad appearance so far.
Nemanja Matic, who was amongst the more regular faces last season, has yet to enter the field of play in the Premier League this term, despite having been named on the bench in each of the three games.
Hence, United need to make a decision on the future of quite a few players and Solskajer needs to understand that a transition is a prolonged procedure that calls for time and patience, meaning that dropping so many experienced players isn’t necessarily the best solution moving forward.
De Gea came under scrutiny for some uncharacteristic high-profile errors between the sticks last season and while that was largely considered as a mere blip, his current form isn’t really a good sign for Solskajer and United.