Manchester United and Crystal Palaces shared the spoils today in an evenly contested match at Old Trafford.
Crystal Palace were the better of the two sides and nearly took the lead in the first half. Patrick van Aanholt should have put his team ahead but the ball fell to his weaker right foot and he fired it well past de Gea’s post. Cheikhou Kouyaté thought he’d put his side ahead before halftime but was marginally offside and the goal was disallowed.
For their part, United failed to threaten Wayne Hennessy’s goal in the first half. In the second half, Hennessey’s blushes were saved after he fumbled a shot into the path of Romelu Lukaku who converted the ball with ease. However, the Belgian’s goal was also disallowed for offside and Palace picked up their first point at Old Trafford since 1989.
Mourinho’s Manchester United: The Bloated, Shambling Mess of a Once Great Dynasty
There was a moment around the 63rd minute when Marcus Rashford had possession close to the byline in Palace’s half and a United attack threatened to form around him. Confronted by Max Meyer and with no attacking passing options available to him, Rashford stood stock-still with the ball at his feet and was only able to muster a couple half-hearted feints before Palace got men behind the ball and the potential attack broke down.
This is what United have become: a stagnant and unimaginative reservoir of unrealised talent without any discernible way out or will to change. One does not wish to single out Rashford here, the Englishman is still young and has not been afforded sufficient minutes this season, but this moment of apathy from the winger and his teammates has come to epitomise this abject mess of a team.
This is United’s worst start to a season in 28 years and is the result of years of mismanagement and nauseating corporate excess.
For the first time in 40 years, United have a negative goal difference at this stage of the season and their two fullbacks today, Ashley Young and Matteo Darmian, should have been moved on years ago. Going forward, there seems to be little connection between the players.
Players like Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial and Lukaku are often running into each other and are unable to anticipate each other’s movements and runs. At this stage of Mourinho’s tenure, the disjointedness of United’s attacking players must be seen as a failure of the coaching staff who should have inculcated a disciplined system for how these players interact with each other.
Lukaku’s Awful Form Continues
The Belgian striker must be feeling the heat now after another dreadful performance in front of the Old Trafford faithful. The £75m striker has failed to score at Old Trafford in over fourteen hours and hasn’t scored in the Premier League since United’s narrow victory over Watford in September.
Lukaku looked lost today when United were in attack, lumbering about the box aimlessly and failing to give his teammates a viable passing option. While Lukaku’s 16 goals last season were respectable if a little underwhelming given the enormity of his transfer fee, his performances this season are cause for serious concern for Mourinho and his staff.
Roy Hodgson’s Palace
There were a few snide remarks in September 2017 when Roy Hodgson was appointed manager of a Palace side which had lost their opening four matches of the season and failed to score a single goal. Many thought that Hodgson was finished as a manager after his forgettable tenure in charge of the English national team. Despite losing his first three games in charge, the journeyman manager did an excellent job to steady the ship and guide Palace to a very respectable finish in 11th place. In doing so, Palace were the first side in Premier League history to survive relegation after losing their opening seven games.
Although Palace are better off at this stage than they were last season, they had only taken 8 points from their opening twelve fixtures before today. More damningly, Palace had only managed to take 2 points, draws against Arsenal and Newcastle, from teams above them in the table.
However, Palace were exceptional today. They were not only disciplined and defensively solid but were also quick to turn over possession and launch threatening counterattacks. The likes of Wilfred Zaha, Van Aanholt, Andros Townsend and Meyer are all technically gifted players and one suspects that Palace will improve as the season progresses and will finish comfortably in the top half of table.
Wan-Bissaka: Future Star?
Aaron Wan-Bissaka has been something of a revelation for Palace this season. An injury crisis last February saw Hodgson promote the 20-year-old to the Palace senior squad and the Englishman has shown huge potential since then. The fullback is extremely impressive defensively having made a staggering 47 tackles in 975 minutes with a success rate of 70% before today, a stat beaten only by Everton’s Idrissa Gueye.
In addition to this, Wan-Bissaka has made 31 interceptions and is also an accomplished passer of the ball with a pass completion rate of 70%. On the other hand, Wan-Bissaka’s inexperience has also been on display this season when he was sent off for a rash challenge against Liverpool and gave away a needless penalty against Southampton.
The fullback was in fine form today despite being given then unenviable task of marking an in-form Marital. Although it was one of his quieter performances, Wan-Bissaka was composed and disciplined. A very mature display from a potential future star.
The Referees Take Their Time
Premier League fans around the world will be pleased at the news that VAR will be used in the Premier League next season. However, many fans still question why referees do not take more time to communicate with one another before making important decisions. Today was a very good example of patient, measured and sensible refereeing from the officials.
In the first half, the linesman took his time before interrupting Luka Milivojevic’s celebrations and disallowing his goal for offside. Replays showed that Serbian midfielder was fractionally offside making the linesman’s call all the more impressive. Lukaku’s disallowed goal in the second half was an equally difficult call to make in real time but the officials were spot on again.
These calls, in addition to some sensible yellow cards for Milivojevic and Mamadou Sakho, demonstrate the quality of officiating which should be standard throughout the league. Hopefully the introduction of VAR will provide referees with the tools necessary to keep this standard up.