The FourFourTwo Preview: Crystal Palace vs Man United
The champions' chance to keep their chins in the Champions League chase. But Pulis' Palace won't pony up as they pursue points of their own.
Wyn Davies, George Graham, Ray Wilkins and Wilfried Zaha. What do these men all have in common? They're the only four players to make first team appearances for both Crystal Palace and Manchester United. Now there's a quiz question for you. Pointless pub trivia over with, let's move onto the game.
CRYSTAL PALACE FORM
- Palace 3-1 WBA (Prem)
- Arsenal 2-0 Palace (Prem)
- Palace 1-0 Hull (Prem)
- Wigan 2-1 Palace (FAC)
- Palace 1-0 Stoke (Prem)
MAN UNITED FORM
- Arsenal 0-0 Man Utd (Prem)
- Man Utd 2-2 Fulham (Prem)
- Stoke 2-1 Man Utd (Prem)
- Man Utd 2-0 Cardiff (Prem)
- Man Utd 2-1p S'land (LC)
As with every Man United game this season bar a very small handful, this should be close and competitive, as Tony Pulis' soaring Eagles pit their wits against David Moyes' struggling band of busted flushes. Both teams have had some time for a breather since their last games - Palace's game at Everton was called off just hours before kick-off due to Windageddon last Wednesday, while United flew out to Dubai to enjoy some warm weather training after two points from nine against Stoke, Fulham and Arsenal.
When kick-off comes it will have been two weeks since the Eagles last played, a 3-1 win over West Brom that offered great promise for the remainder of the season after debutants Joe Ledley and Tom Ince both etched their names on the scoresheet. But in an ultra-compressed bottom half of the table, while Pulis' side sit just one win away from leapfrogging Swansea in 10th, they're also just two points above the relegation zone.
For United, the hope is that the only hot air doing the rounds in Dubai was the balmy Middle Eastern climes and not from the manager or his staff. Ahead of a Champions League last 16 tie against Olympiakos, the break was an opportunity for Moyes to do some much-needed tactical work with the group. He and his vulnerable squad must kick on from here if they're to bridge the 11-point gap that separates them from Liverpool in fourth.
The two-week break has been kind to Palace on the injury front and they have a fully fit squad to choose from. Ledley and Ince could well keep their places after game-deciding contributions against West Brom.
Nani, Jonny Evans and Phil Jones are the walking wounded at Old Trafford at present, but the latter has at least a slight chance of recovering from a dodgy hip. United's defensive shape was solid in their 0-0 draw at Arsenal, with Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley forming a reliable defensive block protecting the back four, so Moyes may wish to stick with the duo in midfield. In attack, however, the 'Juan van Rooney' partnership hasn't quite clicked yet and Pulis will be working on a strategy to make sure that continues.
Key battle: Jason Puncheon vs Patrice Evra
Ince's arrival at Selhurst Park saw Puncheon switch to the right hand side against West Brom, which puts him up against Evra should Pulis stick to that winning formula. Puncheon has been hugely important for Palace in recent weeks and his 3 goals since New Year's Day have directly contributed to 5 valuable points, with winners against Stoke and Hull and the equaliser against Norwich in a 1-1 draw. Against Hull the 27-year-old played down the left but still created 2 of his 3 chances from positions down the right.
Once United's Mr. Dependable, Evra has seen his stock plummet in recent seasons. Time has crept up on him and individual errors - mostly positional - have started to increase, as his 32-year-old legs grow weary and the distance from one end of the field to the other becomes more and more of a challenge.
This season Evra has thus far played every minute of all but four of United's 26 league games. Still keen as ever, the Frenchman persists, marauding up and down to offer an attacking threat down the wing. Increasingly, though, this is causing problems for the Red Devils, as with no-one in reserve to offer a alternative (Moyes appears to have no faith in Alexander Buttner), Evra plays game after game. His once faultless stamina has now yielded to an inevitable tiredness towards the end of matches, creating a defensive imbalance opposition teams are taking advantage of with increasing regularity.
With United's continual focus on wing play and Juan Mata likely to start down the left, from where he drifts infield, Evra's importance both defensively and going forward will have a significant bearing.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- United 2-0 Palace (Prem, Sep 13)
- United 1-2 Palace (LC, Nov 11)
- Palace 0-0 United (Prem, Mar 05)
- United 5-2 Palace (Prem, Dec 04)
- United 2-0 Palace (LC, Nov 04)
The tale of the tape in the managerial battle reads: Played 10, Moyes 4, Pulis 2 and 4 draws.
Facts and figures
- Man United have won 9 of their last 12 trips to promoted teams (W9 D3 L0) with 6 wins despite conceding.
- Man United have won 12 of their last 16 trips to bottom-six teams with 10 wins by either 1 or 2 goal margins.
- 7 of Palace’s last 8 matches have had fewer than 3 goals.
- Palace have picked up 1 point from 11 matches this season against teams currently in the top half while scoring only twice.
- 7 of Palace’s 15 defeats this season have been 2-0.
Best Bet: Correct score 0-2 @ 25/4
More FFT Stats Zone facts • Find the best odds with Bet Butler
It won't be easy for the visitors by any stretch, but United eke out a narrow win. 1-2.