New manager Erik Ten Hag was in attendance as Manchester United fell to another underwhelming defeat on the final day of the 2021/22 Premier League season, losing by one goal to nil against Patrick Viera’s Crystal Palace in what was Ralf Rangnick’s final game as manager.
How did Manchester United set up?
There were nine first-team players absent from the matchday squad when the team was announced before kick-off, much to the bemusement of fans. Dean Henderson, Luke Shaw, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Nemanja Matic, Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Cristiano Ronaldo were all missing for differing reasons, yet it appears rather obvious who had simply disengaged following rumours that players were slacking off in training on Thursday and Friday.
This opened up the opportunity for Ralf Rangnick to give valuable experience to some of the younger players in the ranks, with Hannibal Mejbri bagging himself a starting spot.
Here was the starting lineup and substitutes:Embed from Getty Images
Starting XI: David De Gea (GK), Diogo Dalot (RB), Victor Lindelöf (CB), Harry Maguire (CB), Alex Telles (LB), Scott McTominay (CDM), Fred (CM), Bruno Fernandes (CAM) Anthony Elanga (RW), Hannibal Mejbri (LW), Edison Cavani (ST).
Subs: Tom Heaton, Phil Jones, Raphael Varane, Eric Bailly, Alvaro Fernandez, Charlie Savage, Juan Mata, Shola Shoretire, Alejandro Garnacho.
How it went down
Despite an overall lack of quality in the first half, there were some bright moments from Ralf’s Reds. One of those moments came in the 9th minute when Cavani was slipped in behind following a good move, where he then cut back and managed to tee up Mejbri following a manic scramble in the area. The Tunisian fell to the ground, but it was waved away by Martin Atkinson, who refereed his final game in English football on Sunday afternoon.
United followed up with another bit of attacking play five minutes later, when a wayward effort from Fernandes found its way to Cavani inside the box, but the Uruguayan could not convert on his farewell as a wrongfooted Vicente Guaita managed to save the goal-bound effort.
Another half-chance went begging in the 25th minute when Elanga drove in behind Tyrick Mitchell and drilled a ball across, but Fernandes could not stretch far enough to reach the pass.
Former United man Wilfred Zaha had his effort saved by De Gea not long afterwards, and the Spanish shot-stopper repeated the trick minutes later when Jeffrey Schlupp struck an effort on target.Embed from Getty Images
United were relatively comfortable up until the 37th minute, when Fernandes played what can only be described as a stupid back pass on the volley after receiving the ball from a harmless throw-in. Zaha won the duel with Dalot on the left-hand side before bringing the ball across Lindelof in the middle of the area, and his tame effort just completely deceived a helpless De Gea as it trickled into the bottom left corner.
United went close a couple of times in the opening stages of the second half; Fernandes had a goal bound free-kick saved by Guaita, and when Mejbri was incisively played through beyond the Palace defence, Joel Ward made an excellent recovery to prevent the 19-year-old from opening fire.
Young Mejbri had a curling strike tipped over the crossbar in the 61st minute before making way for Mata a minute later, who seemingly played his last game in a red shirt in the capital. Fred made way for Shoretire in the 76th minute, with Garnacho on for Dalot with ten minutes remaining.Embed from Getty Images
It was all-out-attack from Rangnick, with Elanga dropping to right-back to accommodate another forward, but the reality was all-but-attack as United ended the game rather lifeless.
Final score: Crystal Palace 1-0 Manchester United (Zaha 37’)
Man of the matchEmbed from Getty Images
The usual culprits were poor, if not average at best. Elanga looked full of energy and intent, with substitute Mata as tidy as ever in possession on what fans expect was his farewell, but Cavani should not be overlooked as one of the better performers at Selhurst Park.
In reality, the 35-year-old was rather average, but he had some involvement in some of the better moments of the game. It was Cavani who teed up Mejbri early on, whilst also getting a shot on target against a wrong-footed Guaita. He played a sublime ball to play Elanga in before Fernandes could not quite reach the Swede’s cross. As much as it pains to say it, those were the highlights of the game.
Picking a man of the match is like clutching at straws, but this United side give fans nothing to rave about whatsoever, sadly.
The bigger pictureEmbed from Getty Images
Fans can now breathe a huge sigh of relief now that this headache of a campaign is over. The Reds have qualified for the Europa League following a Brighton masterclass over West Ham. Just think- the United players knew full well that 6th spot was at stake today, yet they still went out on a whimper.
Some fans have not been bothered as to whether or not United qualified for the Europa League or the Conference League, and whilst this is understandable as neither are reflective of where United should be at, it was crucial that these players scammed 6th place. The Europa League gives at least some lure to potential signings, as well as extra revenue to hopefully fund new players. The Conference League would have been a complete humiliation, as this club should never step foot in that tournament which was only created to give smaller teams a chance on the European stage. The quality of opponent will be better in the Europa over the Conference, and fans should want some decent opposition to see wat the wider squad can do. Arguably the most important reason of all, however, is that the Europa League provides an opportunity to get into the Champions League; with Man City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs all improving, there are no guarantees of fourth place next year, as much as fans will have faith and belief under Ten Hag.
Speaking of the Dutchman, he was in attendance at Selhurst Park on Sunday. You would think that the players would have put on a show for their new manager, but this United lot are just built different! In many ways, it is good that Ten Hag saw the reality of this squad, as it would have been deceitful if they rocked up and played well after a poor campaign.
In fairness to those players though, at least they turned up! From those nine players who were not in the squad, you can tell who actually is injured and those who simply did not want to be there. Evidently from some there is no respect for Rangnick whatsoever, who hopefully will come away from this knowing that the majority of fans are sympathetic for him.
Ten Hag has a lot of work to do, and that could be an understatement.