Manchester United withstood a late Crystal Palace fightback to earn a 2-1 victory over the visitors in a game where VAR had a big impact, with Casemiro shown a straight red in the second half for violent conduct.
United went ahead early on through a Bruno Fernandes penalty after the referee had a look at the monitor and deemed Will Hughes’ arm to have been in an unnatural position as the ball deflected off it from Marcus Rashford’s cross in the 7th minute.
Barring a Wout Weghorst header that was saved and Fred coming close at the near post, the home side lacked conviction in their shooting for the remainder of the half. With that being said, they were the dominant side as Patrick Viera’s men offered very little at the other end.
The Red Devils doubled their lead in the 62nd minute when Rashford slotted home from Luke Shaw’s drilled cross to score his nineteenth goal of the season in all competitions off the back of both a Premier League and Manchester United Player of the Month award for January.
Things took a turn for the worse just eight minutes later when a brawl broke out in the corner of Palace’s final third. Antony had been aggressively barged over down the slanting Old Trafford pitch before players were pushing and shoving from left, right and centre. It appeared the matter was done with when Antony and Jeffrey Schlupp were cautioned with yellow cards, but the referee again went over to the monitor before sending Casemiro off. Replays showed he was practically strangling Hughes amidst the chaos.
Homer Simpson would have been impressed…
It soon became stressful for Erik ten Hag and when Schlupp got on the end of a wayward shot to flick home for The Eagles in the 76th minute.
It was a tense, tense affair for Reds fans for the rest of the game. Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof came on to partner Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez, meaning there were four centre-backs on the field for the leaders. Marcel Sabitzer also came on to make his debut and help his side see the game out.
Despite a whopping seven additional minutes, Palace could not find a way through a resilient defensive showing from their opponents, who really deserved the victory after showing such a fighting, determined spirit not to let their lead slip.
Final Score: Manchester United 2-1 Crystal Palace (Fernandes 7’ [pen], Rashford 62’, Casemiro 70’ [red card]) (Schlupp 76’)
Man of the match
Martinez was solid in the first half; he was phenomenal in the second.
The Argentine snuffed out the danger well in the first forty-five, often anticipating the danger as the away side looked to hit United on the breakaway, but they never had a sniff before half-time, in truth.
He upped his levels even further in the second forty-five, particularly after Casemiro’s dismissal. The 25-year-old was aggressive in his tackles and combatatitive in the air against a physical Palace forward line.
The media will paint Palace out to have been unlucky not to get a draw, but anybody who watched that game will tell you that they merely dominated possession in the final period and never had a golden opportunity to score. Martinez had a huge part to play in that.
It was another top showing from a player who has breathed new life the art of defending at Old Trafford. Vamos!
The bigger picture
Relieved would be an understatement in relation to how Reds fans would have felt at the full-time whistle. Of course, it would have been nicer to have kept Casemiro on and controlled the play for the whole ninety, but it was refreshing to see such a resilient team unit from a defensive standpoint. It exemplified the attitude that Ten Hag has instilled into this group of players.
It was a head-in-hands moment when Casemiro was shown a red card. It will mean the Brazilian will miss the next three Premier League games, which are Leeds at home, Leeds away and Leicester at home. His next domestic action will be in the Carabao Cup final on February 26th, should he be picked.
Whilst he can feature against Barcelona in the Europa League twice before then, it does mean that Sabitzer and Fred are going to have to step up their game to a whole new level these next weeks. If they were absent, it would mean 17-year-old Kobbie Mainoo would be the next midfielder in line; the pair will have to come up trumps in the next three league games.
On Sabitzer- he was only on the field after United went down to ten men, but he displayed the tenacity and energy that he possesses and fans will hope to see that again soon.
The win- the thirteenth on the bounce at The Theatre of Dreams- puts The Reds onto 42 points. That makes it six clear of Spurs in 5th, and a whole thirteen ahead of Liverpool in 10th. Happy Saturday, Reds!
What is next?
Next up for Ten Hag and United is a midweek league clash against Leeds at Old Trafford on Wednesday 8th February at 20:00 (BST).
After that, it is Leeds again in the Premier League, this time at Elland Road. That one takes place the on following Sunday 12th February, kicking off at 14:00 (BST).