Manchester United will look to end their alarming run of three consecutive defeats with a win away at Crystal Palace on Saturday, though Louis van Gaal's outfit shouldn't be expecting an easy game. Alan Pardew has led the Eagles to a surprisingly comfortable survival: heading into the round they're up in 12th place, nine points clear of the drop zone. However, the good news is they seem to have taken their foot off the pedal of late, having also lost three on the trot.
United look likely to be without the usual defensive absentees, possibly including left-back Luke Shaw and his defensive counterpart Marcos Rojo. Michael Carrick, Rafael and Jonny Evans will also reportedly be sidelined. Palace have a trio of attackers doubtful, though the potential absences of Jerome Thomas, Marouane Chamakh and Fraizer Campbell won't be too concerning for Alan Pardew.
Alan Pardew has shown himself to be an annoyingly competent manager since leaving Newcastle for Palace mid-season, with his team well-drilled in defence and dangerous on the counter-attack. They're also notable for their mental fortitute, having rescued eight points in the second half of games so far this season. If football matches were only 45 minutes long, they'd be a sole point clear of the drop zone.
Pardew usually sets his side up with a couple of deep-lying midfielders, with both captain Mile Jedinak and his usual counterpart James McArthur tenacious tacklers in the centre of the pitch. While they'll be looking to win the ball back and trigger counters with quick passes forward, they tend to leave the attacking to the four players in front.
Centre-forward Glenn Murray is enjoying an excellent run of form, made all the more remarkable by his throwback target man style. He'll be flanked by a couple of very pacey, very skilful wingers in the shape of Yannick Bolasie and former United man Wilfried Zaha. They're both good talents, and could punish any mistakes made by United's full-backs.
Last but not least is Jason Puncheon, who United's deepest midfielder -- potentially Ander Herrera in the absence of Carrick -- will have to pay very close attention to. The former Southampton man is a winger-turned-attacking midfielder, but his mobility across the field is still one of his greatest assets. He's a fine technician too, and his shots from the edge of the area is a feature United will have to guard carefully against.
United's two main tactical problems heading into this game are therefore trying to break down a deep, determined defence, and how to guard against Palace's threat out wide on the counter. In dealing with the latter, Antonio Valencia and Daley Blind will have to be on guard, and United's centre-backs will have to be ready to push wide and sweep up any diagonals Palace hit in behind the full-backs. The former is a rather more difficult issue to solve. In attempting to do so, the Reds will have to be careful to avoid walking straight into Pardew's trap.