With Liverpool comfortably beating West Ham 4-1 and moving up into second place, Manchester United need a win against relegation-battling Crystal Palace to stay above the rest of the pack fighting for those Champion’s League positions. Mourinho would have been feeling confident however, as Palace have not won a single game against the Red Devils in 17 Premier League Meetings.
There was just one change from the side that beat Chelsea 2-1 on the 25th February 2018. De Gea played in goal with a back four of Valencia, Smalling Lindelöf and Young. McTominay gets yet another start alongside Matic and Pogba. Lingard came in for Martial to join Lukaku and Sánchez in an attacking three.
Crystal Palace’s McArthur got the game underway. Roy Hodgson opted for a two-striker setup with a 4-4-2 formation so I expected more crosses at Selhurst Park than at the Vatican’s Sunday service. The centre-back partnership of Smalling and Lindelöf looked nervous when faced with the initial influx of crosses. They needed to get settled, and fast, if there was to be any hope of getting a 16th Premier League clean sheet.
Palace were moving the ball around very well and United seemed to be caught out by their intensity. After Pogba needlessly wasted possession by launching the ball upfield, a single pass cut through the United back line giving Benteke acres of space to manoeuvre in. He found enough space to shoot but instead passed it laterally to Townsend on the edge of the box who hit it first time into the top corner. The replay shows that the shot took a massive deflection off Lindelöf, which gave de Gea no chance of stopping it. Although luck was on their side Palace were by far the better team in the opening ten minutes.
If Hodgson’s side were to win this game, it would be their first points this season without Wilfried Zaha in the side. They have lost all eight games without him this season and his return in a couple of weeks may be the difference between relegation and survival.
The main issue United had was their narrowness on the ball. All of their possession was channeled through the centre of the pitch and that suited Palace. Townsend and Schlupp came inside and congested the midfield area with the open space on the wings being left open by United. If they wanted to penetrate this well-drilled side, they needed to use more of the pitch and spread their opposition out to create pockets of space for Sánchez or Lingard to run into.
Slowly but surely United built into the game and a major part of that was adding width to their attack. They took a lot of confidence from Palace keeper Hennessey fumbling a couple of simple catches. Their defence isn’t one of the best in the Premier League but if they can’t get past the midfield and into dangerous positions they wouldn’t trouble Hennessey at all.
Scott McTominay got a yellow card for completely mistiming a challenge. As he slid in it seemed like a simple tackle, but he missed the ball and took all of the man. Meanwhile, Valencia and Young kept making great runs down the wings but continued to be totally ignored. I wasn’t then surprised when Rashford came on at the start of the second half.
At halftime, Mourinho would have surely had a stern talk with his side. Presumably part of that talk would have involved an introduction of Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia as the way Manchester United played in the first 45 minutes, it looked as though they had never met. The first substitute took place as Rashford cane on for McTominay.
Matic conceded a foul just inside the United half in the third minute of the second half. The free kick was taken quickly and no one on the Manchester United team noticed until it was too late. When the closest defender Lindelöf saw what was happening, van Aanholt was one on one with de Gea and smashed it in to make it 2-0 to Crystal Palace. That goal really embodied the game as a whole. Palace, always looking to make a quick break and United, lethargic, looking like they’d left their desire to win on the team bus.
The first defensive mistake by Crystal Palace was capitalised on by Manchester United. The ball was crossed into the box and Tomkins was a little late in setting the offside trap and played Chris Smalling onside. The England international still had a lot to do but placed his head into the side netting of the far corner leaving Hennessey no chance. If United came back to win this game it would be their first 2 goal deficit recovery since 2013 at Hull. Just after Ashley Young gets a yellow card for a strong cuddle on a Palace player.
The game was really opening up now with both sides coming close with shots. Hennessey especially made a good save to deny a Pogba shot. Mourinho made a double change to try and spur Manchester United on to victory. Luke Shaw replaced Ashley Young who was on a yellow card and Juan Mata replaced Antonio Valencia. With 20 minutes left to play there was still enough time for the outcome to change. Palace could climb all the way to 13th if they hold out.
Matic came close to scoring his first goal for Manchester United after his move from Chelsea but it is cleared off the line by Benteke. Palace and desperately tried to hang onto this lead but they got relentlessly attacked by United. Townsend got a yellow card for a foul in the frenetic defending.
In the 75th minute, United got their equaliser. Sánchez saw his shot deflected off a defender and then off the bar into the feet of Lukaku three yards out. Immediately he was swarmed by five defenders but somehow he found a space to get a shot off and found the back of the net for the 99th time. The Crystal Palace defence looked dejected. Benteke got a header less than a minute later but de Gea showed why he is one of the best goalkeepers in the world with an unbelievable stop.
Palace were hanging on to this draw by a thread but there were only four minutes plus stoppage time left. Surprisingly Hodgson had only used one of his three substitutes. He had Souaré and Delaney on the bench who are both solid defenders, and it was clear that his back four were completely out of steam.
The fourth official holds aloft the board to show three minutes of additional time. Pogba has a shot from 20 yards out but it got blocked to Matic who was about 25 yards out. He lined himself up and hit it on the volley going straight into the bottom left-hand corner out of reach for Hennessey. Heartbreak for Palace who lost in the closing minutes to Tottenham last week too. Roy Hodgson would have been especially disappointed as he seemed to have done everything right.
Both sides face major tests in the next round of Premier League fixtures with Manchester United playing Liverpool and Crystal Palace playing Chelsea.