Dampening Draw vs. Palace – The State of Play at United

Manchester United entered Selhurst Park on Wednesday night against Crystal Palace with a bit of history in their sights. For the first time in nearly 14 years, they were going for ten straight victories in all competitions. On the night, United’s winning run was scuppered by a sublime, late free kick from Palace’s Michael Olise which landed The Eagles a hard-fought 1-1 draw. The Manchester United fans’ deep disappointment shows just how far their team has come. 

Sir Alex Ferguson’s league and cup-winning 2008/09 side were the last United side to register ten straight games. (Photo by Eurosport)

It is important to remember that in the famous double-winning 2008/09 season there were several blips. One win in the first four league games and back-to-back losses against Liverpool and Fulham were lows. The Reds even did the double over United that season.  

All of this is to say that throughout this season there will be highs and lows. Wednesday’s draw in the capital felt like one of those lows. 

The Casemiro Debate

Casemiro entered the tie one yellow card from suspension. A large debate before the match centred around whether or not Ten Hag would opt to rest his star man, knowing that a yellow card would rule him out of a crucial clash vs. Arsenal on Sunday. 

The Brazilian started in central midfield, a spot which he has cemented as his own.  

Casemiro is playing so well, the thought of being without him for any game was unthinkable for Ten Hag.  (Photo by GettySports)

Almost inevitably, Casemiro’s yellow card came on the 80th minute – he made a crucial foul. Frustratingly for fans, the means did not justify the ends, as United wound up without the win. Ten Hag wasn’t to know that, and his one-game-at-a-time mentality became clear when he started the Brazilian.  

The subsequent suspension of Casemiro is a nasty pill to swallow for United fans. Ten Hag’s choice to play him however is generally respected, such is the faith that the fans have in the new manager.  

Stand-out Performers vs. Palace 

United fans were quick to prase Aaron Wan Bissaka. The right-back, who is getting increased game time under his new manager, shone all evening thanks to his self-assurance on the ball (a trait he was not known for until recently) and his world-class tackling. In fact, Wan Bissaka made a crucial last-ditch tackle on former teammate Wilfried Zaha deep into stoppage time, a goal which would have seen United lose for only the second time in nineteen games.

As it stands, it’s only one loss since the start of October for Ten Hag’s men. Only Arsenal can boast a better record. 

United have conceded nine goals in the second half all season – the fewest in the league. (Photo by TalkSport)

Alongside man of the match Wan Bissaka, De Gea pulled off a string of phenomenal saves to keep Palace out for 90 minutes, only to come undone with an unstoppable free kick late on. The Spanish shot-stopper can hold his head high, he’s been magnificent for most of this season.  

The Result in Context 

At this point last year, Ralf Rangnick had been in charge for 2 months, Manchester United were seventh and Rashford had scored 2 league goals all season. The club were reliant on a brittle, inconsistent Edison Cavani and an errant and unpredictable Ronaldo.  

Following a lukewarm February, United would descend into chaos – picking up only 11 points from their final 11 games, losing seven away games in a row – the final game a dismal 1-0 defeat to last night’s opposition, Crystal Palace.  

United simply are not there anymore.  

Ten Hag has reinvigorated, refocused and renovated a dire Untied squad into a competitive, well-drilled team. At the halfway stage of the season, there is little denying that the new manager has been a monumental success. 

Current State of Play 

United are still not a team which can comfortably guarantee wins against bottom half sides. Is that a concern? Considering where they started from, no. It is a symptom of a malaise that Ten Hag is remedying, but that is still present at United. Five of the starters from last season’s defeat away at Palace were on the bench this evening (Lindelof, Maguire, McTominay, Fred and Elanga). This shows United are still in the early stages of an evolutionary period. 

For a long time it seems, United have been counting down to these two very important weeks – now they can start to look further ahead. The fixtures are coming thick and fast for Ten Hag’s men.  

After a fascinating tie with Arsenal, whose only loss this year came against United in September, United travel to Nottingham Forest in a League Cup semi-final first leg before welcoming Reading in the fourth round of the FA cup.

The Red Devils remain the only club in England still fighting for a quadruple. Untenable as winning all four seems, Ten Hag has silverware firmly in his sights, as well as winnable games on the horizon.  

Author: Sam Talbot

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