It would be nice to say that last Sunday’s derby defeat had been completely forgotten about but unfortunately that isn’t the case. The defeat at the Etihad can however be looked back upon for some positive reasons despite the Reds leaving empty handed and a further two defenders down for the visit of Crystal Palace on Saturday.
Two quick-fire moments of supreme stupidity saw Chris Smalling receive his marching orders leaving United – who had been relatively in control of the game up to that stage – forced into a vulnerable position with just over a third of the game played.
Another defeat inevitably sees comparisons continue to be made with last season – despite injuries clearly being the key factor in hampering a side playing infinitely better than at this stage of the last campaign – along with seemingly hourly reminders that we are enduring our worst start to a season since 1986, which saw Ron Atkinson relieved of his duties at the same stage of the season.
To further add to their woes, Marcos Rojo suffered a dislocated shoulder – United’s 35th injury suffered during van Gaal’s tenure – just minutes into the second half, leaving the Reds with a makeshift back four of Valencia, Carrick, McNair and Shaw – who could well be in line to feature from the beginning on Saturday.
United put up a spirited performance after being reduced to ten-men, enjoying relentless pressure over a poor Manchster City side particularly during the game’s closing 20 minutes, but were unable to replicate some clinical early season form going forward to order to cancel out Sergio Aguero’s winner.
Ticket availability for Man Utd is still rare despite the poor string of performances but United fans are also coming to terms with the fact that outside the race for the title, bad results can be overcome with just one string of really good results. United are not that far away from a Champions League spot, and could be in the top four by December if things go there way.
As we welcome Neil Warnock’s Crystal Palace to Old Trafford on Saturday, like mentioned earlier we can take positives from the derby as well as perhaps our most complete performance of the season against Chelsea, but unfortunately positives aren’t enough. Positives don’t win titles or guarantee Champions League football and the visit of a struggling Palace allows us to covert some much improving performances into an overdue three points.
Much more will be expected of Angel Di Maria after the Argentine has struggled in recent weeks to reproduce some of his early season form which saw the former Real Madrid man pick up three goals and three assists. Playing from a wider position against both Chelsea and City, the £60million signing struggled to impose himself on the game against City, completing just 65% of passes attempted.
With Rooney’s return to the fold, Di Maria could once again be deployed in a more central position once again and as our most creative spark and perhaps the player we rely on most currently should be able to pick up the ball from deep and making driving runs at the Palace defence.
With particular focus on protecting what will most likely be another frail-looking defensive line-up it would come as no surprise to see both Blind and Fellaini – who has impressed in his last three matches – to form the protective shield allowing the likes of Di Maria to find space and press forward.
Robin van Persie’s place in the side could soon be under threat after another unconvincing performance in the derby. The Dutchman – who had just 17 touches against City – would be the obvious casualty if Falcao ever returns to full fitness, while James Wilson could soon be given a starting berth if van Persie continues to under-perform.
A return to the centre of the park for Di Maria, coupled with Rooney’s return to the fold could see Wilson start alongside RVP with Rooney in a more withdrawn role, otherwise Mata, Herrera and Januzaj could fight it out to feature as the final piece of the jigsaw in a 4-4-2 diamond if the manager chooses to revert back to the formation which saw back-to-back victories over West Ham and Everton.
Rooney and RVP were each on the scoresheet on both occasions when these sides met last season with United coming out 2-0 winners both home and away.
Neil Warnock’s side are suffering from problems of their own of late, with their 3-1 home defeat to Sunderland on Monday evening their third loss in four, leaving them flirting with danger at 17th in the table.
Captain Mile Jedinak will miss the trip after he too was given in his marches orders for two bookable offences in his side’s previous match, while Wilfried Zaha is ineligible from facing United under the terms of his loan.
Puncheon should slip back into the side in the absence of Zaha while he and Bolasie should keep Valencia and Shaw on their toes, while former Red Fraizer Campbell will pose the biggest goalscoring threat to De Gea and his back four.
With just 13 point accrued from 10 Premier League matches, It’s vital for United not only to get points on the board and by doing so with conviction. There have been glimpses this season of the attacking threat we can pose – most notably in a 4-0 victory over QPR – which must be replicated soon in order for van Gaal’s side to put a difficult start behind them.
United’s last two fixtures saw some glimmers of hope for United, but a step down in opposition, coupled with the loss of two big names for Palace in both Jedinak and Zaha, could and should see United impose themselves to a much greater extent on the game, not just in terms of possession, but also in terms of meaningful chances created.
Defensive frailties aside, United possess a wealth of outstanding talent going forward and given they can find a way to utilise these players effectively once again, they can begin to lay some foundation. Fourth place is only four points off after all, and can be more than attainable in the next few weeks given that we start channelling positive performances into three points.
Given that we such a point to prove, the players should be really fired up for this one and will see the game against a struggling Palace as an opportunity to exert their power and prove that we are still a team to be feared. Despite worries in defence, our makeshift back four finished the game well last week with McNair looking assured once again and could be joined by another calming presence in Carrick. It is rare however that we don’t look like conceding at the moment but I’ll rekindle my optimism and forecast a much needed 3-1 United win.
Possible line-up: De Gea, Valencia, Carrick, McNair, Shaw, Blind, Fellaini, Di Maria, Januzaj, Rooney, Van Persie