|Rashford celebrates the opener vs Palace but was it a lucky call?
Image from Football Ace
Manchester United picked up a well-deserved three points against Crystal Palace and while the game was not flashy or as high scoring as some United fans expected, it was a very professional performance by the Red Devils. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side remained in 5th on goal difference but they still have a great chance of qualifying for the Champions League as they are the in-form team in the race for Top Four and face Leicester City on the final day, which may turn out to be almost like a play-off match to finish fourth. As Leciester play Spurs this weekend and Liverpool take on Chelsea on Wednesday, the Top Four race is definitely going down to the last game.
The first half was unsettling. Wilfried Zaha looked in the mood to score against his old employers and David de Gea was called in to action in just the second minute of the game. While United did pose threat on the other side of the pitch, especially with Harry Maguire’s headers from set pieces, the game promised to be narrow as the Eagles midfield didn’t allow McTominay to settle down and Pogba and Bruno were both more involved in midfield duels than their creative play. There was an injury scare in the 32nd minute when Harry Maguire was caught in the face but after initial test, the skipper was back and marshalling the backline. A special mention to Timothy Fosu-Mensah for starting at left back after three years absent from the United XI and put in a decent performance as he didn’t allow Townsend or Zaha to cut inside and take a shot. De Gea, who’d only had that early stop to make, was called upon once again just before half-time to save Jordan Ayew’s effort but was a stop you’d expect him to make. The Eagles had a shout for a penalty ignored by referee Graham Scott when Zaha and Lindelof tumbled in the area. Upon review, it could easily have been a penalty but the fact that Lindelof got a part of the ball did prevent VAR from overruling the referee. Just when it appeared that the first half would end goalless, Marcus Rashford came up with a sublime goal. After great link-up play between Martial, Bruno and Rashford, Fernandes found the England international and Doctor Rashford sent Ward, Van Aanholt and Guaita the wrong way and slotted the ball into an empty net. Palace were still fuming at the disallowed penalty but United found themselves 0-1 up against the run of play. Seconds before the half was set to end, Greenwood gave away a dangerous foul and Milivojevic looked to score his fourth of the season with the freekick. While the shot was in the top corner, it was slow and De Gea could get across the goal line and claw it out for a corner almost effortlessly.
Palace began the second half how they started the first, dangerously and the Manchester United defence were caught napping when Ayew put the ball in the net after 55 minutes from Zaha’s low driven cross. But, when the referee checked with VAR, it was ruled out because Ayew was a fraction offside. The disappointment didn’t disturb Palace’s early second-half dominance and once again, De Gea’s safe hands were needed when James McCarthy let fly with a long range shot. Mason Greenwood, who was carrying a knock, wasn’t at his usual best so Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looked at his bench and brought on Jesse Lingard so the forward could get a much needed rest and the midfield engine, Nemanja Matic was brought on for Scott McTominay. It looked like Manchester United were getting nervous and needed someone put this game to bed. Nemanja Matic brought that stability and much needed experience in the midfield and Bruno started moving further up the pitch to worry the Eagles’ defence which was beginning to tire. The Portuguese Magnifico almost doubled United’s lead after a brilliant counter-attack and Rashford’s cut back found Bruno but his shot came back off the post and Palace survived. Everyone including Roy Hodgson knew a second goal was coming as he was constantly asking his players to press the United midfield.
Just four minutes later, Bruno played a beautiful pass to Rashford who, in turn, steered it first time into Martial’s path. There was only going to be one result as Martial pulled back his right foot and placed it into the bottom corner past a rooted Guaita and United were 2-0 up at last. Like Rashford before him, it was a 22nd goal of the season for Martial and the highest tally any Frenchman has scored in the Premier League since Anelka’s goal tally in 2008/09. De Gea pulled off another great save to deny Zaha as the game stretched into 11 minutes of added-on time after the treatment given to Palace left-back Patrick van Aanholt for a nasty injury he picked up attempting to stop Martial’s goal. But in the end, United shut up shop and countered Palace and the game fizzled out.
Overall a professional performance by the Red Devils and good to see Martial and Rashford keeping up their goal tallies but there are big holes which Manchester United need to fill if they want to be close to challenging the title next season and most of them revolve around squad depth.