Palace vs Man United preview: Pards' men need some Punch to end Red Devils hoodoo
Two sides with problems up front play out an inevitable high-scoring thriller.
CRYSTAL PALACE FORM
- Man City 5-1 Palace (LC)
- Leicester 1-0 Palace (Prem)
- Palace 1-3 West Ham (Prem)
- Palace 2-0 WBA (Prem)
- Watford 0-1 Palace (Prem)
MAN UNITED FORM
- Man Utd 0-0p M’brough (LC)
- Man Utd 0-0 Man City (Prem)
- CSKA 1-1 Man Utd (CL)
- Everton 0-3 Man Utd (Prem)
- Arsenal 3-0 Man Utd (Prem)
Tactically fascinating chess match or drab and dreary snoozefest? Those were the two opposed interpretations of last Sunday’s Manchester derby, in which United and City mustered only two shots on target between them in a forgettable goalless draw.
There were plenty of positives for Manchester United to take from the stalemate with their rivals from across town, despite the lack of entertainment for the neutrals. Chris Smalling has been the best centre-half in the division this term, with the former Fulham man marshalling a defensive unit that recorded its sixth clean sheet of the league campaign.
His fellow members of the back four – Phil Jones, Antonio Valencia and, in particular, Marcos Rojo – were also solid and resolute against the likes of Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne and Yaya Toure, while Anthony Martial again demonstrated that he is a tremendous young player with outstanding potential.
On the flip side is the ongoing puzzle of what to do with Wayne Rooney, whose woeful form has made him the elephant in the room at Old Trafford. His deployment up top has forced both Martial and Juan Mata to take up wide roles to which they are not ideally suited, while his lack of goals and contribution in open play means Rooney is presently serving little purpose in the team.
It is difficult to see how much longer Louis van Gaal can persist with his captain: the Red Devils are patently not good enough to carry the striker and still win the Premier League title, but the Dutchman continues to insist that England’s all-time record scorer has an important role to play. A missed penalty in the shootout defeat to Middlesbrough in the League Cup on Wednesday compounded Rooney’s woes further, yet it would still be a surprise if he were not included in the starting XI this weekend.
Also suffering from striking issues are Crystal Palace, whose lack of clinical edge in front of goal was clear for all to see in their 1-0 defeat to Leicester last time out. Palace played reasonably well between both boxes but were ultimately undone by Brede Hangeland’s decisive mistake at one end and a failure to turn tidy possession into clear-cut chances at the other.
Dwight Gayle, Frazier Campbell and Patrick Bamford have taken turns to lead the line in Palace’s last three outings, yet three of the Eagles’ last four Premier League goals have been Yohan Cabaye penalties. Alan Pardew will be desperate for whoever plays up front to get their name on the scoresheet at Selhurst Park.
Valencia is unlikely to be involved after picking up a knock against City, while Paddy McNair remains out with an abdominal injury and Luke Shaw is a long-term absentee. Cabaye, Joel Ward, Pape Souare and Connor Wickham are doubts for Palace, who will definitely be without the hamstrung Marouane Chamakh.
Key battle: Puncheon vs Schneiderlin
Jason Puncheon was a revelation after being converted from a winger into a central attacking playmaker by Pardew last term and, while he has been below par for much of this campaign, the 29-year-old is still a key source of guile and creativity. Morgan Schneiderlin will likely be the man tasked with stopping Puncheon from picking up the ball in between the lines and dictating the hosts’ play. The former Southampton man has made a fine start to life at Old Trafford, and will be confident of keeping Palace’s No.42 quiet.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Palace 1-2 United (PL, May 15)
- United 1-0 Palace (PL, Nov 14)
- Palace 0-2 United (PL, Feb 14)
- United 2-0 Palace (PL, Sep 13)
- United 1-2 Palace (LC, Nov 11)
IN THE MAG
Van Gaal continues to divide opinion among fans and the media alike: many believe United’s slow-tempo style of play is not in line with the club’s history of encouraging flair, risk-taking and entertaining football, while others insist the Dutchman has done a commendable job in getting United back on course after the turbulent tenure of predecessor David Moyes. The only certainty in the case of Van Gaal is that the man himself couldn’t care less what anyone else thinks. The 67-year-old possesses the ruthless single-mindedness associated with many of the world’s top coaches, and United’s points tally – 20, just two fewer than table-toppers City and Arsenal – would suggest that he is clearly doing something right at Old Trafford.
Pardew’s popularity with his club’s supporters is on a firmer footing, despite the Eagles suffering successive defeats to West Ham, Leicester and Manchester City in their last three games. While Palace will not be expected to pick up all three points against the Red Devils, it is important that they at least put in a positive performance to regain some of the early-season momentum that has been lost in recent weeks. The South Londoners have overachieved in amassing 15 points from a possible 30 in the opening quarter of the campaign, but Pardew, who has openly spoken of Europa League qualification as a realistic objective, will be keen for his team to get back on track on Saturday afternoon.
Facts and figures
Juan Mata scored in both of Man United’s Premier League games against Palace last season.
- Palace have never won a Premier League game against Man United, drawing 2 and losing 10 (including each of the last 4).
- Of current Premier League teams, Palace’s total of 12 games without ever winning against Man United is the joint-longest 0% win rate against a single opponent (level with Palace vs Southampton).
More FFT Stats Zone facts
United to grind out a narrow victory. 1-2.