Five lessons from Palace 0-2 Man United: Champions find hope in the old and new
Rooney knows how to celebrate a contract
Wayne Rooney had gone five successive appearances without scoring or assisting a goal for Manchester United prior to their 2-0 win at Crystal Palace - his longest drought on that front since December 2011, when he went 7 games without an attacking intervention.
So it was fitting, therefore, that he would celebrate a shiny new five-year contract with a goal to smash that particular stat and instead provide another one: becoming the second player after Frank Lampard to score 10+ Premier League goals in 10 consecutive seasons (though we doubt there's an award on its way for that).
Palace fans had it in for the United striker from the off at Selhurst Park, as they jeered him fiercely and sang "who's the Scouser in the wig" with familiar collective terrace glee. As if Rooney's new deal doesn't make him rich enough, some even threw coins at him as he went to take a corner. The rich get richer and all that.
Rooney replied in style with a cracking goal to seal the victory, and he played with customary energy and determination. And restraint, for the Rooney of old might well have had one or two things to say about the kind of abuse he was subjected to throughout.
Rooney kept plugging away and often dropped deeper into midfield positions to try to help the team create, but he also offered a goal threat. It was a mature performance from the man once referred to as the White Pele and, as we'll come on to, it looks as if David Moyes has decided Rooney will be the one to lead the new United.
There's life in old dog Evra yet
FFT feels pretty self-satisfied, having picked out Patrice Evra as a key man before today's game. That preview defended the 32-year-old Frenchman, highlighting how the great responsibilities he accepts as both a defensive and attacking focal point of United's game have at times appeared like more of a burden.
Perhaps Evra is a keen follower of these pages, as his performance at Selhurst Park was in some respects a throwback to the glory years, when he was rightly considered one of the world's best left-backs. Although the possibility of a contract extension has been mooted, there's a chance we are witnessing Evra's final few months in a United shirt, after eight years of service and 10 major trophies in the red shirt.
Today he showed what he offered on a regular basis during that time: solid defensive work married with an important attacking threat. Evra was decisive on the day, winning the penalty for the opening goal and fizzing in a fine cutback for Wayne Rooney to score United's second.
After six months in the job David Moyes gave an interview on MUTV in which he named Evra as the player who had most impressed him since joining, citing his influence in the dressing room as a key reason why. Evra's legs may be growing increasingly weary, but his commitment to the cause can never be doubted.
Jedinak is no longer underrated
Mile Jedinak seems to have been described as 'underrated' from the first minute he kicked a ball in the Premier League, so it no longer feels appropriate to assign him that particular tag. At one point does one go from being underrated to simply rated?
The Australian midfielder has been a revelation for Palace this season, sitting just outside the top 10 for most successful tackles per game in the Premier League. What's more, he is currently the league's best player for interceptions per game, using his intelligence and anticipation to lead the way with 3.5 per game, narrowly ahead of his opponent at Selhurst Park, Michael Carrick.
Jedinak again was at the heart of all things positive for Palace here, making more tackles, more interceptions and - perhaps surprisingly - creating more chances than anyone else on the field. He also led the way for fouls as he got stuck into the dirty side of things. From working in his uncle's office in Sydney to captaining the Eagles in the Premier League, the 29-year-old's rise continued with a classy display.
Palace need a plan B
For 60 minutes the plan was working perfectly for Tony Pulis' side. With their opponents' recent struggles against Fulham in mind Palace sat deep, with a defensive block of 10 men behind ball and minimal space between the lines. United had 70% possession in the first 30 minutes but their passing wasn't incisive enough and easy to defend against. There were no killer through balls or runs in behind and pot shots from distance. Palace looked comfortable.
The goal, however, transformed the match. "It was the changing point of the game," Pulis admitted afterwards. "I hate to say it but it was a penalty. It gave them the leg-up they were looking for." Palace pushed up thereafter in an attempt to get back in the game, but when you've sat in the trenches for so long it takes a little while to rub your eyes and adjust to the brightness of daylight and open space.
The Eagles' attempt to get back into the game only left room in behind for the likes of Juan Mata, Adnan Januzaj and Robin van Persie to play into and Palace's margin of defeat could have been even wider during this period, with Van Persie hitting the crossbar from a United breakaway after a through ball into the space behind.
In Tom Ince, Yannick Bolasie, Jason Puncheon, Marouane Chamakh and now Glenn Murray Pulis has a number of options, but finding the right balance between defensive organisation and switching to the front foot in search of goals is one he needs to get right in their remaining games.
"We're in a relegation battle with 12 other teams so it'll go right to the end, I imagine," Pulis stated afterwards. Palace have more important games to come than the bonus ball of a match against the champions, but relegation remains a threat. That said, on today's evidence they look to have the necessary defensive organisation and fighting spirit to stay up, the backing of a brilliantly vocal and passionate home support an added plus point.
Rebirth starts here for Manchester United
Towards the end of this game a rendition of the famous United terrace chant 'Viva Ronaldo' carried its way through the mild air at Selhurst Park. The chant was poignant - far from boisterous, not too loud; understated and slightly melancholic, if anything. It spoke of what now seems like a bygone era for Manchester United, to the days when Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez fired United to multiple triumphs in the league and Europe.
Ronaldo only ever played one game against Crystal Palace, as a substitute in a 0-0 draw nearly nine years ago; from the United team that played that day, only three players remain – Rooney, Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs. (Julian Speroni was on the bench for Palace, in a game whose only real flashpoint was Vassilis Lakis' sending-off.)
That game took place a month after Adnan Januzaj's 10th birthday. Ronaldo is long gone; Phil Neville and Paul Scholes, who also featured, are on United's coaching staff. This is a new era for the Red Devils, led by a manager who looked far more relaxed after the game than he did in a tetchy post-match press conference at Stoke three weeks ago.
With Ferdinand and Giggs winding down their careers, Rooney is the figurehead of this new era and in that sense it was fitting that he should get his name back on the scoresheet. He will probably be United's next captain and he has a major part to play in this crucial transition period.
Saturday's Premier League analysed • Crystal Palace 0-2 Manchester United on Stats Zone