Manchester United fell to a dismal 1-0 defeat at the hands of Crystal Palace at Old Trafford on Saturday afternoon.
Whilst many Reds fans would have expected their side to follow up on Wednesday’s 3-0 win in the Carabao Cup against the same opponent at the Theatre of Dreams, the reality played out quite differently thanks to Joachim Anderson’s emphatic finish in the 25th minute following a set piece.
The result leaves Erik ten Hag’s men with three wins and four defeats in the seven Premier League games so far, with Roy Hodgson’s Palace climbing above United and finding themselves two points better off.
How it went down
Clear-cut opportunities were amiss throughout the game for both sides, yet one of the better chances fell to Rasmus Hojlund inside the first quarter of an hour when he beat an onrushing Sam Johnstone to the ball with an outstretched boot. The Danish striker was made to wait for his first Premier League goal, however, when Tyrick Mitchell hooked the trickling ball away as it approached the net.
The opportunity came off the back of Marc Guehi’s skewed header at the other end which had a few fans behind the goal holding their breath, for sure.
Neither team stamped any authority on the match until the 25th minute when Eberechi Eze fired a wide-angled free-kick across the box to Anderson at the back post, and the latter- unmarked- hooked a controlled, right-footed volley into the roof of the net that flew past Onana in a flash. Hojlund would have perhaps felt like he could have done better to clear the cross before it reached Anderson as he missed his headed clearance.
Aside from some half opportunities and a Casemiro drive that went wayward of the post, United failed to unnerve the visitors throughout the remainder of the half. The passing sequences looked neat and tidy at times, but the final product was lacking for the Red Devils as the game headed into the interval.
Bruno Fernandes gave some inspiration to a disgruntled home crowed just before the hour mark when Johnstone was forced to tip a delightful effort over the bar from the Portuguese captain. The former United stopper- now 30- denied an equaliser once again not long afterwards after Hojlund headed a near-post cross goalward.
Ten Hag tried to once again up the tempo by bringing on Alejandro Garnacho in place of fellow South American winger Facundo Pellistri, which meant Marcus Rashford moved out to the right-hand side after an hour.
Mason Mount was left frustrated when he met Diogo Dalot’s fine cross with an erratic header that blazed past the near post on the seventy-minute mark, not long before Garnacho’s cross from the left of the area deflected not once, but twice, before trickling out for a corner in the most agonising of manners.
Eze was wasteful as he squandered a rare Palace chance against the run of play with a tame, uninspiring effort with the outside of his right boot in a three-on-two attacking sequence with fifteen minutes remaining.
Christian Eriksen and Anthony Martial were on in place of Mount and Rashford, respectively, as the home side continued to probe with purpose.
Although, aside from a potential penalty shout in stoppage time when Garnacho’s effort deflected off the tucked-in hand of opposition centre-back Guehi, United had all the bite of a basking shark in the attack, to be honest, as the game faded out to an underwhelming close once again for the Reds this campaign.
Final score: Manchester United 0-1 Crystal Palace (Anderson 25’)
Player Ratings and Lineup
24 Andre Onana (6)
20 Diogo Dalot (6)
19 Raphael Varane (off 87’ for Maguire) (6)
2 Victor Lindelöf (off 87’ for Van de Beek) (6)
4 Sofyan Amrabat (6)
18 Casemiro (5)
7 Mason Mount (off 77’ for Eriksen) (5)
8 Bruno Fernandes © (5)
28 Facundo Pellistri (off 61’ for Garnacho) (5)
10 Marcus Rashford (off 77’ for Martial) (5)
11 Rasmus Hojlund (5)
1 Altay Bayindir (GK)
35 Jonny Evans
5 Harry Maguire (on 87’ for Varane) (6)
39 Scott McTominay
34 Donny van de Beek (on 88’ for Lindelöf) (6)
46 Hannibal Mejbri
14 Christian Eriksen (on 77’ for Mount) (5)
17 Alejandro Garnacho (on 61’ for Pellistri) (5)
9 Anthony Martial (on 77’ for Rashford) (5)
Man of the Match
Not one player grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck in the attack and midfield, so you would have to look to the defenders when picking the Man of the Match award.
Dalot was one of the better performers on Saturday afternoon. With very little to do in the defence, he still did a good job when called upon as Palace looked to extend their lead throughout the game.
The Portuguese defender was probing in the final third throughout the match, and managed to deliver some enticing balls into the area, operating in both inverted and natural full-back areas.
With an injury crisis in and amongst the full-backs at Man United, currently, the 24-year-old has a heavy schedule ahead of him, and he has put himself in good stead to kick on in both of his performances against Palace this week.
The bigger picture
Unusually, there are not many angles to shift the blame for football fans and critics when analysing United’s performance on Saturday.
There was not an individual player performance that you could single out for the defeat, nor a stand-out error from the manager that cost his side the points. It appears that the biggest issue at times for United- prominent in the Palace loss- is the inability to create chances and sustained attacking sequences of play.
Every successful side in the Premier League, such as Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool- have a well-known style of play when it comes to the attack that they can be renowned for, or one that is recognisable on the eye when watching those sides, at least.
When it comes to United, despite watching them week-in, week-out as a fan, you would never know what the style of play is; each and every attack is different, ranging from breakaways and intricate give-and-go passing sequences, to cutting in and shooting from the flanks and crossing the ball into the box. You very rarely see sustained, recognisable patterns of play.
Of course, when you are winning games, the scattered attacking play is not able to be criticised. When you have talented players who are able to mix it up and succeed, there is no issue, but the ability is not always there in the on-field personnel and it can appear that United are a collection of individual players rather than a team with a clear vision of what they want to do.
This prompts the question- does that show the manager up? Perhaps. Although, you could credibly question whether or not it comes down to the players being unable to carry out the manager’s attacking gameplan. Could it be a mentality issue, or maybe an ability issue? It is anybody’s guess.
What should be noted, though, is that the lack of a clear, defined way of attacking has been absent throughout the reigns of David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and now even Ten Hag. Infer from that what you will.
With some favourable fixtures ahead, supporters will hope things can get better, yet any fan who expects this United side to blow any team away is incredibly naïve based on the evidence provided. Man United are the definition of inconsistent.
What is next?
Next up for Ten Hag and United is a matchday two UEFA Champions League clash against Turkish giants Galatasaray at Old Trafford on Tuesday 3rd October, kicking off at 20:00 (BST).
After that, United host Thomas Frank’s Brentford in the Premier League at Old Trafford on Saturday 7th October, kicking off at 15:00 (BST) before the international break commences.