Manchester United travel to south-east London on Monday evening to take on a Crystal Palace side who have slumped recently, and must surely represent ideal opposition for Jose Mourinho’s men to build further upon their renewed confidence after last Sunday’s excellent result over Chelsea.
United showed some resilience to come back from falling 0-1 behind midway through the first half to a strong Blues side at Old Trafford before running out 2-1 winners. It was a result which was badly needed, given that the Red Devils had fallen a league place below bitter rivals Liverpool for 24 hours after the Merseysiders had predictably dismantled a poor West Ham United team 4-1 at Anfield on Saturday afternoon.
It was also a welcome result because it showcased, for possibly the first time, that United striker Romelu Lukaku is more than capable of performing well and finding the back of the net against the ‘big’ clubs in the Premier League, something some pundits and media outlets had claimed he was incapable of doing. As I have been advocating on this platform for some time, EVERY striker needs decent service to perform well, and Romelu is no different in that respect; we simply haven’t been giving him enough quality opportunities in the bigger games to date.
Crystal Palace come into this fixture in poor form, a fact that is reflected in their position in the Premier League table, hovering precariously above the relegation zone in 17th place, with 27 points from 28 games played. Roy Hodgson has done well with a club that were marooned and cut adrift at the foot of the table when he was appointed, but that early resurgence under the former England boss has receded recently, and a growing injury list (which includes star forward and former United player Wilfried Zaha) has not helped the Eagles to ‘take flight’. They succumbed to a late Harry Kane winner for Tottenham Hotspur at Selhurst Park last Sunday, and are now desperate for points.
With that in mind, here is my team selection for this game: (fluid 4-3-3)
GK: David de Gea – David was surprisingly beaten ‘all ends up’ by the sheer ferocity of Willian’s shot for Chelsea’s goal last weekend- the ball almost seemed to go ‘through’ him! Thankfully in the end it didn’t matter as far as the result went. I’d hope that David has much less to do at Selhurst Park, though Christian Benteke remains a threat at any time.
RB: Antonio Valencia – Tony was his solid self against the Stamford Bridge outfit, and I’d hope he will be similarly hard to beat for the Palace players; he’ll be relieved that Zaha is out with injury, since he would have been coming up against the Ivorian flyer if he had been fit to play.
LB: Luke Shaw – Luke again found himself sat on the bench as the Blues visited Old Trafford- I’m perplexed as to why Jose Mourinho continues to favour Ashley Young at left-back (I’ve nothing against Ashley, who is a very fine player in his own right); Luke should be the “future” for United at left-back, so why not get him out there now? I know I would.
CBs: Eric Bailly & Victor Lindelof– Eric Bailly should surely be fit to play in this game, and to be honest we’d need him to feature at Crystal Palace, if only to make sure he is right for the Liverpool fixture next weekend…. Ideally I would partner Eric with Phil Jones, but Jones is again sidetracked by a niggly injury, and so I’d give Lindelof another chance to adapt to the English “rough n’ ready” stuff- he has shown he is good enough to be competitive at this level.
DMs: Nemanja Matic & Scott McTominay – These two (eventually) formed a very effective partnership against Chelsea, giving us a stable base in midfield, which allowed Paul Pogba to wander further forward to help orchestrate attacking moves…same again please! It will be essential they win the battle to control midfield.
AM (C): Paul Pogba – Paul started to look more like himself during the second period against Antonio Conte’s men, freed up to link up with Sanchez, Martial and Lukaku in fashioning attacking moves. Hopefully he steps it up even further at Selhurst Park, as it would be lovely to have our best player right at the peak of his powers again before Liverpool come to town….
RF: Alexis Sanchez – Sanchez again struggled to have more than a peripheral influence on proceedings against Chelsea, his part in Lukaku’s equaliser easily his best moment. It may take him some time to adapt back to playing from the right side, and also to gel with new team-mates, but it’ll come good- the lad is top quality.
LF: Anthony Martial – Martial had a somewhat quiet afternoon against the defending Champions, aside from his crucial involvement in Lukaku’s goal. In general, he was well marshalled by Victor Moses and Cesar Azpilicueta, but will certainly hope for more freedom to hurt Palace on Monday evening, and will be aided by the fact that on-loan Timothy Fosu-Mensah cannot play against United, his ‘parent’ club.
CF: Romelu Lukaku – the Belgian quietened his critics with a well-taken goal and a confident display against his former West London employers last Sunday. His crossed assist for Jesse Lingard’s headed winner came at the end of some excellent footwork from the big man, and you wouldn’t bet against him getting his 23rd goal of the season on Monday evening. He will be a real handful for the Palace defenders, and the focal point of United’s attacks.
BENCH: Romero, Smalling, Lingard, Carrick, Mata, Young, Rashford.
With several very important games coming up in the next few weeks (particularly the return leg of our European Cup tie with Sevilla), it would be great for the morale of everyone at the club (players, management and fans alike) if United can continue to build upon what was a very decent last week, in terms of results, with another win at Selhurst Park. In all likelihood, we will kick-off the game on Monday evening sitting below Liverpool in the league table, as they host struggling Newcastle United at Anfield on Saturday evening, and it’s hard to see Jurgen Klopp’s men dropping points in that fixture.
Crystal Palace are struggling for any semblance of form or even a fit, recognizable starting XI, so it will really represent a poor result if United don’t leave south-east London with all three points on Monday night; that said, Selhurst Park is never an easy venue to play at, with the Eagles’ fans creating a very hostile atmosphere for visiting teams. However, we really should have more than enough ability within our squad to overcome Hodgson’s side over 90 minutes of football….but then I thought the same about our recent visit to St. James’ Park, and look what happened there….. Let’s hope “lightning doesn’t strike twice” in quick succession.