Manchester United welcome bottom club Crystal Palace to Old Trafford this weekend, having returned to England from a long, grueling (but ultimately successful) trip to Russia during the week. The comfortable nature of the 4-1 victory over C.S.K.A. Moscow will have pleased Jose Mourinho, not least because it means his players may not be as weary as he would have thought they might have been given the busy schedule United are facing at this stage of the season.
Indeed, the manager was afforded the luxury of withdrawing Armenian attacking midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan and the slightly injured Anthony Martial after both gave very impressive performances against the Russian outfit, and he didn’t need to use creative play-maker Juan Mata at all. Romelu Lukaku continued the fantastic start to his United career with another two opportunist goals, to take his tally to 10 goals in his opening 9 competitive games, punishing the ageing C.S.K.A. back line for some very poor defending indeed.
By contrast, Crystal Palace arrive at Old Trafford in wretched form, yet to even score a Premier League goal in this campaign, much less gain any points as October appears on the horizon. Dutch manager Frank de Boer has paid the price for this abject failure, lasting only 4 games before getting the boot in favour of experienced former England boss Roy Hodgson. Hodgson began life at Selhurst Park with a 0-1 defeat to Southampton, and after securing the club’s first win of the season (in the EFL Cup over Huddersfield Town), they eventually got savaged 5-0 by Manchester City last Saturday at the Etihad Stadium, despite holding City at 0-0 for nearly the entire 1st half.
On paper, this should be a comfortable home victory for the Red Devils, against a side struggling for any semblance of form or confidence. United loanee Tim Fosu-Mensah will be ineligible to play against his parent club, so Hodgson will be forced to shuffle his pack for sure, but to be quite honest his squad should be a lot better than they have shown to date, and I’d be surprised to see Palace still at the bottom of the table come Christmas time.
Here is my team selection for this game: (4-2-3-1)
GK: David de Gea – our keeper enhanced his already stellar reputation with a couple of fantastic saves in Moscow on Wednesday evening, one in particular from Alan Dzagoev in the early stages of the game was simply world-class, reacting rapidly to get down to his right to palm the ball out for a corner-kick. He will once again prove a formidable barrier for the Eagles’ players to breach. Dave’s concentration has been excellent this season, making valuable goal-saving contributions despite spending large amounts of time ‘twiddling his thumbs’!
RB: Antonio Valencia – Tony missed the Russian game with a minor knock, but I would hope he can return for this game; his ability to rapidly turn defence into attack down the right wing will terrorise Palace left-back Patrick van Aanholt and perhaps see the Dutch full-back be much more defensive-minded than he usually is. If Tony isn’t fit to return then I’d have Ashley Young in this position, with Daley Blind at left-back.
LB: Ashley Young – Young has played well at left-back recently and captained the side from right-back against C.S.K.A Moscow to great effect. The fact that Jose subbed him off early would indicate that he will feature in the Palace fixture, and I’d have no problems with him as an attacking full-back; his quality from either wing is excellent.
CBs: Eric Bailly & Victor Lindelof – both lads featured in Moscow, and though it was a much quieter evening than they could have hoped for, I think both did well in what was asked of them. Victor needs game time in the Premier League, and a home tie with the bottom club should be the sort of game he can gain some confidence in (particularly as Palace are going to be without their main aerial threat in Christian Benteke through injury), so I’m picking him ahead of Chris Smalling and the injured Phil Jones. Eric is a good partner to have alongside you as you try to ‘find your feet’ in the top league.
DMs: Nemanja Matic & Ander Herrera – I thought both Matic and Herrera played well in Russia. With Matic, it’s expected, such is his supreme ability to ‘run’ a game from the centre of the park, always available, always involved, making a tackle here, giving a pass there….the big Serb has been a brilliant signing. Ander showed once again that he is a superb player to have around the squad, slotting in like he’s never ‘been away’, and against tricky opponents like Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Yohan Cabaye, his presence and effort will be invaluable.
RM: Juan Mata – Juan didn’t get onto the pitch in Moscow, and ultimately we didn’t miss him, such was our dominance over the Russians; however, this should leave him fresh and raring to go against Hodgson’s men.
AM(C): Henrikh Mkhitaryan – the Armenian maestro was back at his irrepressible best in midweek, giving the C.S.K.A. defence a torrid time trying to track his movement, and I’d expect more of the same against Palace. Hodgson will probably come with a stifling 4-5-1 formation, which will require guile and patience to break down – Henrikh will be key to doing just that.
LM: Marcus Rashford – Marcus was on a largely watching brief in Moscow, as his pal Tony Martial put the Russian rearguard to the sword, easily the most impressive player on the park. However, Tony picked up a worrying knock to his right ankle and had to come off early, so I’d start with Rashford on Saturday, even only as a precaution for Martial. Marcus’ pace and ability will have Joel Ward and company sweating throughout the game.
CF: Romelu Lukaku – with 10 goals in his opening 9 games, only a fool wouldn’t select Romelu for a fixture against a defence which has looked as leak-proof as the Titanic’s hull so far…. He won’t find Scott Dann and Mamadou Sakho easy opponents, but if we create enough chances, you wouldn’t bet against the big Belgian making it 11+ goals from 10 games….
BENCH: Romero, Martial (if fit), Lingard, Blind, McTominay, Darmian, Smalling.
This should be a comfortable home win for the Red Devils, but they will need to guard against complacency; Palace are a better squad of players than their league position indicates, and they will break their goalscoring and points ‘duck’ soon; let’s hope it is not at our expense on Saturday afternoon, as anything other than 3 points will be a very poor result for United. I expect us to win, but it may not be as easy as some would predict, with Palace undoubtedly hurting from their thrashing at City last Saturday. Roy Hodgson will pack the defence and midfield from the first whistle and try to hit us on rapid counter-attacks; our lads will need to be patient as they look to find the ‘key’ to unpick Roy’s ‘lock’….