Capping off a rather dull weekend of football, Manchester United and Crystal Palace played a thriller at Selhurst Park. Coming into the game, Crystal Palace hadn’t won against Manchester United in all 17 of their previous Premier League matches. However despite Crystal Palace leading 2-0, Manchester United fought back in the second half and ultimately won 3-2 in stoppage time. Nemanja Matić scored the winner with an absolute world-class goal from outside the box in the 91st minute.
When Juan Mata came on in the middle of the second half, the Manchester United attack instantly changed. His clever runs and link-up play instantly brought a spark to a team which was struggling to create anything going forward.
Manchester United enjoyed a majority of the possession in the first half. But this possession was rather stagnant and they struggled to create much with it. There was a distinct lack of positive quality going forward.
However, after coming on, Mata was integral to actually doing something with the possession that Manchester United had. He consistently looked forward and played the right pass and made the right runs. Alexis Sanchez looked more dangerous too with Mata playing intricate passes to him.
Juan Mata is known as one of the most intelligent footballers in the world and it certainly showed today. For much of the first half, Manchester United tried to go down the middle of the pitch. However, Palace always had men back and clogged this area. This caused all the open space to be out wide. Once Mata came on, he consistently looked out wide and played the ball into space for the wide players to run into. This was key because the wide players were then able to play in tantalizing crosses, something Wayne Hennessy struggled to deal with all day.
Jose Mourinho does not start Mata often enough against teams that will sit back against Manchester United and let them possess the ball. Mata may not have ended up with a goal or an assist, but he put in an absolute class performance for Manchester United.
Christian Benteke has enjoyed a fairly dismal 2017/2018 at Crystal Palace with only two goals in 23 appearances. He has often looked lackadaisical up top and his effort has rightfully been questioned at times. He just does not seem up for it in some matches.
Today though, he was magnificent. He consistently troubled Manchester United’s back line and bullied them with his strength. He never stopped running throughout the match and tracked back brilliantly to defend a few times. Most notably, he cleared a shot off the goal line to preserve a 2-1 lead for Crystal Palace.
His best moment of the match came just after Manchester equalized to make it 2-2. Benteke beat Chris Smalling to the ball and rose high and headed the ball on net. He was unlucky not to score as he was ultimately denied by a world-class diving save by David de Gea.
There are no words that adequately describe how difficult Matić’s match-winner in stoppage time was. It was an absolutely exceptional hit on the half-volley from well outside the box. The technique that he needed to get that on target is phenomenal. Matić, someone who is well known for his longshots, deserves all the credit in the world for the strike.
He easily could have been MOTM, but his play throughout the rest of the match just did not stand out enough. Defensively, he was not great and allowed Crystal Palace to threaten on the counter-attack multiple times. He also went missing in the midfield for periods of the game and had a poor first half along with the rest of Manchester United.
Matić was a bit unlucky not to score in the 74th minute when Benteke cleared his shot off the line. All in all, it was not Matić’s best match in a Manchester United shirt. Nevertheless, his heroics in the 92nd minute will be all that is remembered from this match and deservedly so.
A relatively new face to the Premier League, Wan-Bissaka played exceptionally well against Manchester United. Only 20 years of age, this was Wan-Bissaka’s second senior appearance for Crystal Palace. Despite this inexperience, Wan-Bissaka completely held his own against two more experienced players in Alexis Sanchez and Marcus Rashford. He kept up with Rashford’s pace well and had two strong tackles.
His best moment came midway through the second half when Rashford got in behind him. Wan-Bissaka used to his pace to catch Rashford and had an amazingly well-timed to tackle to get the ball away from Rashford and avert the danger from Crystal Palace’s goal. For someone playing only his second senior match, Wan-Bissaka’s performance was eye-opening. He looks to have a promising future and should hold his head extremely high despite the loss.
Despite not being at fault for any of the three goals, Hennessey had an absolute shocker of a match. Arguably the worst keeper in the Premier League, he did no favors to his reputation in this fixture. Multiple times he misjudged a cross and let the ball fall in a dangerous area. Manchester United did not capitalize on any of those mistakes but they easily could have.
He did have a decent save from a Paul Pogba strike but any top-flight keeper should be expected to make that save. Hennessey also struggled to organize the Crystal Palace defense in the final twenty minutes of the game. They were constantly under pressure and looked relatively nervy. A better keeper behind them could certainly have helped with directing the defense and instilling the necessary confidence in them so that they could have successfully seen out the result.
Including Pogba here might be seen as a little harsh but with a €105 million price tag comes €105 million expectations. Pogba offered very little going forward throughout the match. He did have four shots but ultimately none of them were particularly troublesome for Hennessey. He was very wasteful in possession, especially in the first half.
Multiple times either Ashley Young or Antonio Valencia were running into space out wide but Pogba played a lazy pass that was either over-hit or intercepted. He seemed to be fairly passive throughout the match and could be seen half-heartedly jogging around the pitch.
This has been a recurring problem for Pogba since transferring to Manchester United. When he’s on, he’s absolutely world class and a nightmare for the opposition to deal with. However, most of the time this season, he’s been poor. This has created a huge liability in the midfield for Manchester United, especially defensively. Jose Mourinho certainly cannot rely on Pogba to track back at all. He still is full of potential, but as of now, he has not lived up to his lofty price tag.
What this all means:
Manchester United will largely want to forget this match. They were extremely poor throughout the first half and against a better side, that will be impossible to overcome. They showed great heart and poise in the comeback and that should be applauded. However, most importantly, they managed to grab all three points from this match. The victory today brought Manchester United back to second in the table ahead of their weekend clash against Liverpool.
Crystal Palace, on the other hand, will agonize over the fact they wasted a 2-0 lead. There were certainly some positives to gather from this performance. However, with them firmly in the relegation zone, they need desperately need results. A win today would have brought them all the way up to 13th in the table from 18th. With how injured their squad currently is, Roy Hodgson has his work cut out for him in order to help Crystal Palace avoid the drop.
Featured image by John Walton/PA
“From Our Haus to Yours”