Manchester United picked up a crucial victory as they defeated Crystal Palace 2-1 at Selhurst Park. A first half Juan Mata penalty and a Marouane Fellaini header sandwiched a Jason Puncheon free kick as the Red Devils all-but secured a return to the Champions League after a year out. After Liverpool’s draw with Chelsea, Brendan Rodgers’ men’s hugely inferior goal difference means they need a miracle to oust United. Louis van Gaal has almost achieved his aims for his first season in charge and will now have to turn United into title contenders next year.
Angel Di Maria and Robin van Persie both missed out on this clash due to injury or illness, meaning Luke Shaw and Phil Jones came into the team as the only two changes. After three consecutive defeats without scoring a goal, it was an absolutely crucial victory for United. Ashley Young once again starred after the news that the exciting Dutch winger, Memphis Depay will be joining the club this summer.
Here are five key thoughts following the victory over Palace.
1) Memphis Depay is coming to Old Trafford with more incomings to follow
It was a memorable week off the pitch for United. It was announced in the build-up to the Palace game that Memphis Depay will be moving to Old Trafford this summer, after the Red Devils staved off interest from PSG and Liverpool. The flying Dutch winger is very quick and direct, who shoots regularly. He is the top scorer in the Eredivisie this season with 22 goals from a wide area. He is one of the hottest properties in world football and should be an excellent signing.
The Depay deal shows United’s intent this summer. They are looking to get their business done early and will look to bring in players with world class potential as they look to push for the title next year. There have been constant links to the likes of Ilkay Gundogan, Nathaniel Clyne and Mats Hummels all season and United will need players in that mould to compete consistently at the top of the table and in Europe.
2) Young and Fellaini continue to prove their doubters wrong
On the pitch, it was the man who is looking to keep his place when Depay signs, Ashley Young, who starred against Palace. He ran riot down the left flank and although is end product could have been slightly better, was United’s most dangerous attacking player on the day. He provided the assist for Fellaini’s winner to further prove any remaining doubters wrong. Young’s turnaround has been nothing short of stunning this season.
The same goes for Fellaini, who has nailed down a spot in the midfield in recent weeks. The Belgian is seen as a limited player by many but he has shown that he can cut it at United after his nightmare debut campaign under David Moyes. He is undoubtedly better when player further forward but is likely to be more of a squad player next year when United strengthen their squad. Despite that likelihood, Fellaini’s own renaissance has been fantastic.
3) David De Gea’s new contract has to be a priority
I may be getting slightly carried away but De Gea’s wonder save from Glenn Murray’s point blank shot was one of the best saves in Premier League history. His sheer reactions, combined with the strength of his wrist to stop the ball from going in was truly staggering and showed off perfectly why United must do all they can to keep hold of one of the best goalkeepers in world football. It was a phenomenal all-round goalkeeping display on Saturday but it has become the norm. De Gea pulled off a string of superb saves to further prove his class in between the sticks.
With Real Madrid interest seemingly not going away, the only way United can quell their advances is to offer De Gea a new, lucrative long term contract. It must be done quickly with the transfer window looming. He is crucial to Van Gaal’s plans at the club and he has won United points single-handedly this season.
4) Defensive reinforcements are needed desperately
Despite all the positives, United only just got over the line. It is just good enough for this season, a year of rebuilding after the disaster of the last campaign, but the error prone and unreliable defence must be reinforced over the summer. Chris Smalling has been excellent this season but neither he, Marcos Rojo nor Phil Jones can be relied upon to stay fit for a prolonged period. Meanwhile, the right-back area is also in need of a desperate revamp with converted winger, Antonio Valencia currently first choice.
Rumours linking United with Clyne and Hummels just will not seem to go away. Both seem like viable targets, too. They would appear to be the perfect two signings to propel United onto another level defensively as there have been far too many enforced changes to that backline this year. Two alternatives options for these areas of the pitch should those two targets not be available are Aymeric Laporte of Athletic Bilbao and Seamus Coleman of Everton.
5) Champions League football moves ever closer
It has not been a vintage United season but one where they have just done enough to get the job done. With a six point and massive goal difference advantage over fierce rivals Liverpool with just two games to go, United have all-but guaranteed a return to the Champions League. Although many fans believe this is not enough in any season, it was a realistic goal in a season of re-building for Van Gaal which he has almost achieved.
There are plenty of reasons to look forward to next year after several eye-catching displays in recent weeks. The wins over Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester City showed us the potential that United have under their Dutch manager. Those performances at full strength were fantastic and with the right signings in key areas to provide both stability and consistency, United could become a major force next year.