Manchester United have to find a new way of winning after Crystal Palace setback

January 18, 2023

Man Utd drew 1-1 with Crystal Palace with Bruno Fernandes and Michael Olise on the score-sheet at Selhurst Park..

In the pantheon of David de Gea’s greatest saves, his fingernail onto the crossbar from Odsonne Edouard may not even be his finest at Selhurst Park, the scene of an extraordinary save from Glenn Murray in 2015.

Bruno Fernandes clinically struck three minutes later and until the 90th minute, De Gea’s save was as matchwinning as Fernandes’s goal. Only Michael Olise beat him with a precise free-kick, off the underside of the crossbar.

United had invited Palace onto them. Their only threatening pieces of play all evening were in response to Palace almost scoring and scoring at the end of each half. After Olise’s magnificent equaliser, Casemiro had a presentable chance to snatch a winner inside the six-yard box. United’s winning streak ended on nine.

Scott McTominay might have been awarded a penalty at 1-0 and United supporters are prone to carping on about supposed refereeing injustices. Erik ten Hag is vividly critical in victory and loath to blame refereeing decisions. Citing the McTominay call would not wash.

Defensive-minded changes, poor game management in the final third – particularly from Marcus Rashford and Antony – invited Palace onto United, reduced to some desperate and cynical fouls. That was what allowed Olise to step up and beat De Gea…

The United players were disconsolate at full-time. Ten Hag shook his head. Steve McClaren sought clarification over the VAR check on Ben Richards’s challenge on McTominay. United’s mood had dropped with two dropped points.

United have not won away from home by more than one goal in the league this season and that was always unsustainable. They are now officially at the halfway stage of their league campaign and it is time for a rethink.

Grinding out victories is an invaluable method yet United still find goals hard to come by and they underestimated Palace, toothless until Patrick Vieira introduced Jordan Ayew and Jeffrey Schlupp in the final 20 minutes.

To compound matters, Casemiro is suspended against Arsenal. His cynical upending of Wilfried Zaha, his fifth caution, was symptomatic of United’s sterile domination. Palace were lifted by Vieira’s adventurous substitutions.

United lack an alternative outright defensive midfielder to Casemiro. McTominay was a brief stop-gap earlier in the season yet assumed an attacking role as a substitute at Palace. The last time Fred was paired with Eriksen he lasted a half with Brentford 4-0 up.

It was premature to mention United in the title conversation before Wednesday night. They have risen in the table – to third – yet two more points would have elevated them to second for 24 hours at least, raising the prospect of the first top-of-the-table meeting between themselves and Arsenal since November 2007 on Sunday. That wait goes on.

United had done little with a lot of the ball until Edouard swung his right boot 20 yards out. As fine a glove as De Gea got to it, it was visible to thousands inside the ground he had directed the ball onto the woodwork.

The save jolted United, their attacks prone to collapsing through the frivolous Antony, and their promptest piece of play ended with the breakthrough goal in the 43rd minute.

Followers of De Gea’s career have become accustomed to him defying belief. With the United supporters parallel with his penalty area, De Gea might have relished celebrating Fernandes’s goal with them. Instead, he calmly strode back to his goalframe and superstitiously tapped the bar.

For Ten Hag, his voice had carried across the pitch. He had been imploring United to maximise the return of Luke Shaw to the left-hand side. For once, Shaw was took a back seat and and Christian Eriksen, who had carried the ball from deep, charged into the channel and had the composure to find Fernandes. Fernandes clipped the ball as emphatically as he had past Ederson four days earlier.

There have been innumerable changes at United since Ten Hag first watched them as the incoming manager at Selhurst Park eight months ago. The support is not one of them; United fans were bullish on the final day of last season as they heralded a new era, their mood improved by Liverpool’s runners-up status. It is happier now.

Only two players – De Gea and Fernandes – lined up at Palace for the 1-0 loss in May. Rashford was not even in the matchday squad that day and Charlie Savage and Shola Shoretire were among the substitutes. Phil Jones was on the bench, too.

Wout Weghorst’s existence was justified with Fernandes’s goal, his run towards the six-yard box alerting three Palace players to open up a clear path for Fernandes. Weghorst was a neat conduit in United’s attacks on his debut after only three training sessions with his new teammates but as harmless as his counterpart Jean-Philippe Mateta.

The United fans chided Vieira for the umpteenth time almost 24 years on from his unwitting assist for Ryan Giggs at Villa Park and aired their paeans to another Frenchman, Eric Cantona, a week before the 28th anniversary of his kung-fu kick in Croydon.

After moving the pieces around against Manchester City, square pegs were placed back in square holes, Eriksen’s flexibility harnessed and though Fernandes was relocated back to the right for the final 20 minutes he was central for his sixth goal of the season.

Antony is still struggling to get up to speed, decelerating United attacks by frivolously rolling his studs over the ball. He did it one time too many for Fernandes, who rightly rollocked his teammate.

The renascent Aaron Wan-Bissaka was more of a threat in the final third and decisive in his own area, sliding in to deny Zaha a winner at the death.

De Gea’s denial was not as vital as he would have hoped.