The FourFourTwo Preview: Man United vs Crystal Palace
MAN UNITED FORM
- Man City 1-0 Man Utd (Prem)
- Man Utd 1-1 Chelsea (Prem)
- WBA 2-2 Man Utd (Prem)
- Man Utd 2-1 Everton (Prem)
- Man Utd 2-1 West Ham (Prem)
CRYSTAL PALACE FORM
- Palace 1-3 S’land (Prem)
- WBA 2-2 Palace (Prem)
- Palace 1-2 Chelsea (Prem)
- Hull 2-0 Palace (Prem)
- Palace 2-0 Leicester (Prem)
Ian Wright, Jim Leighton, Eric Cantona and the 1990 FA Cup Final are ties that will forever link Manchester United and Crystal Palace. In losing 1-0 to United in that FA Cup final replay 24 years ago, the Eagles were, unbeknown to them, props in a scene that changed the face of English football forever - unwitting characters in a play whose plot they had no idea how close they came to defacing permanently.
A trophyless Alex Ferguson had been under major pressure heading into United's cup final with Palace, the sword of Damocles hanging ominously above his head after years of indifferent form. "We knew if we didn't win the cup that year he was going to be on his way back to Scotland' Clayton Blackmore would comment years later. "Everybody thought that."
After a 3-3 draw in which Ian Wright scored twice for Palace, United would win the replay 1-0 thanks to a Lee Martin goal in the 59th minute. Ferguson had his first trophy at Old Trafford. The pressure eased dramatically thereafter, allowing the Scot time to build a side that would win the Cup Winners' Cup the following season and the league within three years. The rest, as they say, is history.
United and Palace have met 18 times since, the most notable occasion when Eric Cantona turned Judge Dredd and took the law into his own hands by assaulting an abusive Palace fan at Selhurst Park, a crime which earned a nine-month ban but which Brian Clough felt at the time was punishable only in the most gruesome of ways. "I would have cut his balls off."
The last two meetings between the Eagles and Red Devils have produced 2-0 victories for United in which Robin van Persie scored a penalty and Wayne Rooney sealed the three points with a second goal.
Will history repeat itself (again) on Saturday? Given the defensive woes of Louis van Gaal's side, a clean sheet is far from guaranteed, but Palace will sorely miss the midfield guile of Mile Jedinak (suspended) and the offensive cut and thrust of Wilfried Zaha, ineligible to play against his parent club.
Despite lying in 17th, Neil Warnock's side are just four points behind United, who've made their worst start to a season in the Premier League era with 13 points from 10 games.
United's injury list is almost as extensive as the list of aspects of Chris Smalling's game that need improving. Marcos Rojo (shoulder), Jonny Evans (ankle), Smalling (suspended), Rafael and Phil Jones are out.
This leaves the prospect of playing a back four of Paddy McNair, Tyler Blackett, Michael Carrick and Luke Shaw, a backline so makeshift that the very word itself may have to give up and reconsider career options.
Radamel Falcao's mystery 'knock' keeps him out for the third game running, while the game may come too soon for Ashley Young, close to full fitness but not quite there yet.
For Palace, Jedinak is the main absentee after seeing red against Sunderland, and given his importance to the team the Australian's absence in midfield will most certainly be felt. Zaha is ineligible.
Player to watch: Robin van Persie (Man United)
There is something quite curious about the forward players at Manchester United this season, in that underlying doubts surround almost all of them. Not in an inexperienced, young-pups-on-an-upward-trajectory-with-their-whole-careers-ahead-of-them type of way. It's not that the likes of Van Persie, Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney and Falcao are untested. Nor in a they're-over-the-hill-and-need-replacing-immediately type of way, though such sentiment is closer to the root cause of many people's suspicions. It's more that middle ground of creeping skepticism that marks the quartet's current predicaments.
Opinion on all four wavers and fluctuates regularly. Rare these days is the opinion cast-iron with positivity, and Van Persie is one of those players whose career zenith many fear is accessible only via the rearview mirror. Van Persie came under scrutiny for his performance in the defeat at Manchester City amid accusations he doesn't do enough to hold the ball up and occupy defenders, aspects of his game that have never been his forte. Which makes you wonder why he's being expected to do so in big games. Didier Drogba he ain't.
The Dutchman's 12 goals in 21 league games last season was respectable enough, but when you're offering just 3 goals in 9 games in 2014/15, as he has, other areas of your game need to be exemplary in order to avoid the suspicious glances out of the corner of the eye that some are presently throwing the former Feyenoord and Arsenal man. With academy graduate James Wilson apparently being seriously considered to start ahead of RVP this weekend, pressure is on him to perform.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Palace 0-2 United (PL, Feb 14)
- United 2-0 Palace (PL, Sep 13)
- United 1-2 Palace (LC, Nov 11)
- Palace 0-0 United (PL, Mar 05)
- United 5-2 Palace (PL, Dec 04)
Have there ever been two managers more diametrically opposed in style and outlook than the Manchester United and Crystal Palace managers? "If people think it's funny to call me Colin W*nker, so be it," Neil W*rnock stated while Sheffield United manager in 2006.
"I'm all for anything that makes people laugh." A contrast, then, to Louis van Gaal - a manager who takes himself seriously enough that he once congratulated Ajax directors in 1991 for hiring him.
Facts and figures
- No Premier League team has had more players sent off than Man United in 2014 (5).
- Palace have failed to score in 8 of the 10 Premier League meetings with Man United.
- Palace have conceded at least 2 goals in each of their last 6 Premier League away games.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
United offer tantalising glimpses of promise but usually not for any longer than 20 minutes of a game. That said, Palace have won just two league games all season (one less than Saturday's opponents). 3-1.