Manchester United completed a remarkable comeback from two goals down to win 3-2 at Crystal Palace, with Nemanja Matic’s stoppage-time thunderbolt ensuring that the Red Devils came away with the three points. Palace had taken a surprise two-goal lead, with strikes from Andros Townsend and Patrick van Aanholt, but United rallied late in the second half, as Chris Smalling and Romelu Lukaku equalled the scoreline, before Matic’s dramatic intervention.
Here are three of the most compelling storylines from the match
United’s powers of recovery mask defensive mistakes
Manchester United came back to win a game of football for the second game in a row, having trailed to Chelsea the previous weekend. The task was arguably greater here, as defensive lapses had allowed Palace to pilfer two goals with the majority of the second half yet to be played. United had looked shaky at the back right from the start, as Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof struggled to deal with the physical threat of Alexander Sorloth and Christian Benteke. Indeed, it was Benteke who held the ball up before rolling it to Andros Townsend for the opener, albeit one that came off a heavy deflection via Victor Lindelof. The second goal saw amateurish defending, as a quickly-taken freekick caught the entire United defence napping, and van Aanholt was easily able to sprint into the box before placing the ball inside David de Gea’s near post. However, Smalling did redeem himself, with a perfectly-judged header from Antonio Valencia’s cross to halve the deficit. United pushed forward in numbers, and Lukaku’s goal set up a tense finale, before Nemanja Matic chose the best possible way to open his account for the club. To his credit, Jose Mourinho’s attacking substitutions did pay off; however, the question remains as to why United continue to be prone to defensive errors of the kind seen here. This was the first time United won a game after being two goals down since Boxing Day 2013, and while that fighting spirit and attitude are welcome, it would be far better if this sort of scenario did not arise in the first place.
Lukaku has found his scoring touch
There has been a lot of criticism aimed at Romelu Lukaku this season, a product of his transfer fee as well as the fact that he now plays for Manchester United, which brings with it a tide of expectation and censure. While Lukaku may not be anywhere close to the likes of Mohamed Salah or Harry Kane in the scoring charts this season; a position he should be occupying given his talents, the Belgian has contributed his fair share in an attacking sense this season. His goal to equal the scores at Selhurst Park was his 8th in 11 games, and 23rd of the season overall. He also has 7 assists this season, 6 of those in the league; as many as the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Willian and Raheem Sterling, which goes to show his involvement in United’s attack. Lukaku was playing well even when he was not scoring; his movement and touch have improved by miles since his arrival at the club, and he was creating space for others, even if he himself wasn’t scoring. Now that the scoring form of early season has found him again, Lukaku looks like being a crucial player for the run-in; scoring goals as well as creating them for others.
Young’s inclusion wearing thin
Ashley Young’s renaissance was one of the stories of the season early on, as the once-forgotten winger put in a series of good performances at the unlikely position of left-back for United, even earning a recall to the England squad. While Young has somehow become Jose Mourinho’s first-choice left-back, this has meant that Luke Shaw has had fewer opportunities to play, something which has annoyed United fans. Shaw has impressed whenever he has played this season, and even got a run of games in the side when Antonio Valencia was injured, which meant that Young shifted over to right-back. However, Valencia’s return has seen him return to the bench, even though Young’s performances have not been up to par since. He was tormented by Andros Townsend at Selhurst Park, in a repeat of what happened at Old Trafford in the reverse fixture earlier this campaign, and failed to get close enough to him for the opening goal. Young will be 33 this July, while Shaw is a full decade younger, which means that United fans would much rather see the youngster get more games and cement his place as United’s left-back for the next decade than have a converted winger go through a late-career revival. Shaw did come on for Young as United looked to attack after going two goals down, but Mourinho needs to realize that he must put his faith in the younger lad, who is the future, rather than Ashley Young, who represents a fast-retreating present.