CRYSTAL PALACE VS MANCHESTER UNITED
22.02.2014

In the pre-match discussions Moyes was effusive in his praise of Palace and how they’ve been saved by Pulis this season. He offered memories of his previous epic encounters with Pulis in the hothouse of lower league football; hold your breath, Preston v Gillingham.

Many fans may have anticipated a game with the same attributes but with the news of Rooney signing a deal and the team returning from a ‘warm weather break’ we hoped for more as United searched for their first away win of 2014.

PERSONNEL

In: Fellaini, Ferdinand and Januzaj.
Out: Rafael, Valencia and Cleverley.

KEY POINTS

  • The front four felt more like a 3+1 with van Persie not getting the service he wanted.
  • Januzaj needed more support on the wing.
  • Smalling needs to improve his touch and economy when using the ball.
  • Carrick should have played higher and asked more questions of Ledley and Jeniak in midfield.

FIRST HALF

Fellaini’s return was pleasing to see, if nothing else, to see him try and prove his critics wrong. This type of game appealed to the cliche that he may offer the ‘steel’ needed in a game against a Pulis side. This was a Palace side in a 4-4-1-1 formation which leaned heavily to a 4-5-1 when defending, which they often did.

Copy of First Half United in the first half

Early on, this defending saw a response to Januzaj, both defensively and offensively and it was the offensive pattern which showed a distinctive tactic; get the long ball to Fellaini at the back post. Whilst this didn’t lead to any true opportunities it was the Belgian (not Januzaj obviously) that missed two of United’s best chances (Januzaj’s disallowed goal aside). It was dispiriting to see how he lacked the support of an overlapping run or the opportunity for a one-two to test Palace.

United were allowed to build from the back on a number of occasions, through Smalling or Carrick mainly, as Palace sat deep, except for Murray who worked hard. If Smalling is to develop and be involved in build up play he needs to improve his touch and economy when using the ball. He was making runs which saw him in some useful positions but he tended to look uncomfortable on the ball more often than not. In front of him, or rather not, Mata was busy as he drifted in but by this point he wasn’t part of any serious goal threat (neither was anyone else).

Ince was pivotal to Palace’s game plan and he enjoyed a degree of success down the left where he attacked but also sought out the zone between Vidic and Evra. However, it wasn’t long before we saw he and Puncheon swap wings which was interesting as both are left footers.

Due to Palace’s tactical approach van Persie was excluded from much of United’s play. He needed passes to be direct to him or he had to drop back as much of the play excluded the areas he occupied.

As far as United’s defending was concerned it was sufficient, only really tested during set pieces but it was Fellaini’s defensive positioning that was erratic. Fortunately this didn’t cause any major issues.

Copy of Fellaini headers

SECOND HALF

Woahhh. Palace started aggressively with a number of corners in the first five minutes which, as dangerous as they may have appeared, were dealt with comfortably.

United were not quite clicking into gear despite having enjoyed significant possession of the ball (66%-34% – source BBC Football). When they did have the ball a number of stray passes, mostly by Fellaini, brought moves to an end.

United’s right hand side offered no threat as Smalling had a lot of space in front of him with Mata tucking inside; he rarely used this space. This was especially frustrating as Parr rarely attacked. Smalling’s delivery from wide areas was poor.

Copy of Second Half United in the second half

3 v 1. When Carrick had the ball he often had it with Ferdinand and Vidic flanking him (typically behind) but with a Palace forward in front of him. This presented some frustration as United started from the back with three players against one, fortifying Palace’s defensive approach. This naturally meant that Palace outnumbered United further forward. Carrick should have played higher and asked more questions of Ledley or Jeniak in midfield.

Boom! As the threat from Januzaj was dimming, he made an incisive pass from the wing into open space for, what was a rare Evra run. He was fouled, a penalty was awarded and van Persie despatched.

Boom! The pace and confidence of United’s play markedly improved after the opener as Mata played a key role in what was a peach of a second goal. The build up play led to a sweet strike from Rooney, who up to this point, hadn’t played particularly well. Guess that’s what you pay for though.Copy of Combination play for rooney goal

The question now was could United keep a clean sheet?

Pulis acted by bringing Jerome on for Murray and Bolasie for Chamakh who’d played well. They made an impact, particularly the latter who was tricky and worked the spaces either side of Smalling.

Moyes responded to this by bringing Valencia on for van Persie whilst also introducing Giggs for Januzaj.

United retained their shape with Rooney up front, Giggs left but deeper than Januzaj and Valencia right, covering the space Bolasie had turned inside to to attack.

CONCLUSION

This was an unspectacular affair but pleasing in that the few good chances United created they took. Defensively they looked better but were rarely troubled with Evra turning in a much more assured performance. It was good to see his most effective run into space yielded the penalty.

Copy of Utd clearances United defensive interceptions

On the other flank a lot more work is needed. Mata is class and is going to tuck in, so Smalling (or Rafael) need to be more effective. With Mata coming inside, in what was a clogged central area, wing play is key to unlocking that. Although, he got better as the game wore on, his touch and pass need developing. Yet he wasn’t alone in this as Fellaini was seen dithering with the ball and had a number of passes intercepted.

The front four were interesting as it felt more like a 3+1 with van Persie not getting the service he wanted. Firstly, the four were detected from the midfield two and secondly, United couldn’t string passes together around the box and they weren’t getting direct balls to him either. He tried to play on the shoulder of the centre backs, looking for a ball over the top which wasn’t forthcoming.

Overall, a good result that aligned with a not so spectacular performance.