CRYSTAL PALACE vs MANCHESTER UNITED
Slightly nervy was the mood after United had lost three games; this made that previous successful run of games seem so long ago and put a Champions League spot in jeopardy?
In: Jones and Shaw.
Out: McNair and Van Persie.
- Palace were focused on their wingers causing United problems.
- United were combative and topped the tackling chart; a battling, determined win.
- The involvement of Valencia in the passing combinations is a continual feature in the Van Gaal era.
- A poor game and a disjointed nervy display, but 3 points were all that mattered.
Both teams were clearly intent on trying to attack but the early going showed a lack of clarity in the way the teams went about this. The play was very disjointed.
United were playing very deep despite their apparent attacking intent which saw Rooney marooned upfront. If there was any movement to assist Rooney it came from Mata who on a number of occasions came inside taking up positions around the 18 yard line. This saw some neat play as Palace’s flat but wide formation allowed a pocket of space for Mata to occupy.
If you recall the Everton game, Blind was caught high up the pitch on too many occasions. Here he played much deeper but wasn’t protected by Herrera who kept quite narrow and was closely marked by McArthur in United’s 4-1-4-1. This saw United’s passing rhythm nullified with Blind having little time to settle on the ball.
Boom! There was little in the way of interest in this game up to United’s goal. This came via a cross from Young, another poor one, handballed by Dann and referee Michael Oliver gave the penalty. Mata deliciously passed it to the right hand side of Speroni. 19 minutes played, 1-0.
Following the ‘assist’ Young gradually found his feet and assumed his regular duties of getting forward with direct wide running and also dropping back to help Shaw deal with Bolasie who has shown great promise under Pardew.
He was part of a high pressing approach an area of particular interest was how they pressed the space that the two centre backs left when they split, referring back to our earlier point on how Blind was harried.
Whilst the game was intriguing, both sides seemed inhibited, nervous perhaps. On 40 Shaw was taken off after a collision left him dazed. There was potential here for Bolasie to take advantage of his replacement. So it was interesting to see Van Gaal put Jones out on left and use Jonny Evans in a central position.
Towards the end of the half it was clear that Rooney was struggling with a thigh injury and he was replaced by Falcao at the break.
Also at the break Palace replaced Ledley with Puncheon and changed shape with the new man playing higher and closer to Zaha on the Palace left. They now looked much brighter and took the initiative with thrust on both sides in narrow positions either side of Murray. After 57 minutes this paid dividends and they equalized through a cheap free kick. But the big question about this free kick revolves around De Gea and Blind. De Gea for his strange positioning and dive which was probably in part because Blind moved his head out of the way on the shot. It took a slight deflection off Blind. Disturbing shades of Nasri against United a couple of years ago!
The game generlly remained rather flat but Palace’s counter attacking caused United significant problems and they were lucky that Palace didn’t take their chances.
The poor contribution from Fellaini saw many calling from him to be substituted as a clear change was required from United to take back the initiative. The introduction of Puncheon had brought greater intensity to Palace’s game. One incident stood out where Murray was allowed to drift in by Evans and the Palace man should have scored but for a great save by De Gea; the defence seemed to have gone into panic mode.
Young saw his increase as he pushed higher and with two or three chances to run with the ball he looked a real threat on the left. These take-ons are key to United’s development; they break up the often predictability of United’s passing and push the opponents back creating space for others.
Young’s persistence paid off with a cross where he had three players around him. He played the ball to the back post where Fellaini was waiting, the keeper ran into his own player and Fellaini nodded home. Boom! 2-1 after 78 minutes. Falcao’s small but invaluable contribution to this should not be underestimated; his presence distracted the Palace defence. Back on top!
Not long after this goal we saw another great save from De Gea, as Palace adopted a longer ball approach and keeping the ball in the air. To combat this Fellaini dropped deep.
This wasn’t a game to set the pulses racing and it was with relief that United earned the victory.
“We have worked so hard, the players showed the team spirit is good. I am very proud. When you are fighting like this every week, we are difficult to beat.” – Van Gaal post match
Both teams played quite flat. Palace adopted what appeared a 4-2-3-1 with a difference being that their forward line and the centre of the midfield created a spearhead in pressing and also maintained their width; stretching then coming through the middle. This increased in the second half when their shape changed t mirror United’s. Whilst United adopted a 4-1-4-1 throughout, with the two number ones suffering in isolation, Rooney and the pressing on Blind.
The two stand out players were De Gea who maintained his excellent season form and Young who did well to be involved in both goals and perform a number good effective take-ons.