It was always going to be difficult on the night, with tired players and a resolute Palace side to overcome. It was tense and the deadlock was only broken by smart play between Bruno, Martial and Rashford, the latter sitting down three Palace players to score into the other corner. Palace pressed on, in the second half in particular, but the threat on the break was always going to be there, the same trio again working together but this time Martial finishing into the same corner of the net.
Nerves and Stodge
With the result preceding ours in the East Midlands, it was more must win than it was before that round of fixtures kicked off. The importance of the game could be seen in the early exchanges as it was a tentative start against a team that have lost five of the six games since the restart. The passes were not as slick as they were before the restart, the runs not as intense, the decisions not quite right. Of course, the fatigue can be seen a mile away but it was not good at all in all aspects of the game. The decisions to bring in McTominay and Fosu Mensah, the big surprise, hindered the flow of our play as McTominay’s penchant to hide as a passing option and refusal to play through the lines drags Pogba back in order to get the team up the pitch. Fosu-Mensah had a hard task in an unfamiliar position in his first start for United since May 2017. Him being predominantly right footed meant that he closed the game up by always looking inside. But their introduction weren’t the only issue. The midfield as a whole, not just the Scotsman, was a shadow of what it has been, after being our biggest strength. The simple things, when they were done tonight is when we looked at our best. Yet time and time again, Pogba and Fernandes continually let down the team with poor decisions, on and off the ball. Bruno in the first half was far too high and it let the Eagles progress play and build attacks far more easier than they should have been able. Pogba, in dropping deeper, was showing the bad habits that make people question whether he is able to play alongside a partner in a double pivot long term. Jonesing for the feel of the opponent, trying to turn them, when that represents substantial risk. The goal against Southampton should have been warning enough but clearly it wasn’t. A sloppy pass in the second half could have easily led to the same result, luck for us, Palace did not capitalise. It was a continuation of the poor last game and while fatigue is a factor, it is not an excuse. For the Frenchman or the Portuguese. A bucking up of ideas is paramount if we are going to get into the coveted places of the Champions League.
There were two that were on it tonight though and over the years, when the chips are down, they are the two to regularly give us hope. Rashford and Martial got two again, after their exploits should have been enough to get us more than the one point we gathered in the last outing. The latter was particularly impressive throughout the game. It is hard to think of a thing the former Monaco player did wrong, in any regard. He hustled and harried, when we were in or out of possession; he held up the ball well whenever it came into him and linked up with others superbly. The goal for Rashford was an example of how the little touches and connection he has with Bruno quicken up the play so that we become difficult to live with. Any piece of good play came with his inclusion, even if he failed to get it enough due to poor play in the first two thirds. Rashford was his usual effervescent self: the skill for Martial’s goal just shows the plethora of tricks in his box. The two share a connection that is only going to make United fans reminisce of Dwight and Andy and the competition for the top scorer doesn’t seem to come between them, all the happy to lend the ball to the other in order to get the goal. It is a joy watching these play together when it was not so long ago that they had to compete for one spot in the team. Long may it continue
Solid and Steady
It was an important night for another two, in Lindelof and Maguire. The past few games has shown of soft underbelly, with the aforementioned two being at the heart of it. A strong performance was needed and it was duly delievered. Lindelof showed all the physicality of a proper centre back as he continually matched the Ayew and Zaha in their endeavours. Maguire, a small misstep late in the game aside, was equal to his partner. It was defensive solidity in a game where they were being worked more due to the lack of protection in front of them. They were key to the win and will be happy with a clean sheet, something that helped De Gea equal Schmeichel’s record for Man Utd.