After three straight challenging road matches (and 2018’s final international break), Manchester United are just happy to be home. The Reds host lowly Crystal Palace on Saturday as the club plots a charge up the table before year’s end. United currently languish in a disappointing 8th place, but could leap up a few spots with a win.
To put it lightly, the last few weeks haven’t been easy. But United managed to pick up three big wins during that stretch, before falling last time out in the Manchester derby. Now, the fixture list finally softens up and it is United’s time to make a move.
Let’s face it: this international break has been pretty rough for the men in red. Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial didn’t even make it to France before pulling out of national team duty with injuries — leaving a nervous wait to see if United’s two most influential players will be available at the weekend.
If you’ve been keeping tabs on Pogba’s social media, then you know all about his recuperation in sunny Dubai. Perhaps this is overly optimistic, but it seems to be a good sign that Mourinho allowed his star midfielder to leave for the international break instead of rehabbing at Carrington.
Martial also looks good to go, as he was spotted back in training earlier this week.
But several other Reds picked up injuries with their national teams, putting the club in a tough spot this weekend. Marcus Rashford limped out of England’s win over Croatia, Romelu Lukaku withdrew from the Belgium squad with an ankle problem, and Victor Lindelöf left Sweden’s first match through illness. Thankfully, Lindelöf returned for his country’s midweek Nations League match — and even scored a goal.
None of these injuries appear to be terribly serious, but they definitely disrupt the squad ahead of a pivotal stretch.
Alexis Sánchez stayed injury-free, but drew plenty of media attention for his detached and sullen attitude with the Chilean national team. With reports of his derby day dressing room bust-up already flying around, Alexis’s time at Old Trafford might be growing short. That is, if the club can find anyone to take him. And his wage packet.
It’s not all bad news. Jesse Lingard bounced back from an erratic performance at The Etihad — repeatedly leaving way too much space open on the right side — to score goals in both England matches. Lingard’s curling stunner against the USA might go down as the goal of the break.
How José Mourinho lines his side up on Saturday remains anyone’s guess. This spate of injuries (and Alexis’s deteriorating attitude) leaves holes all over the pitch.
With Luke Shaw suspended for yellow card accumulation, Diogo Dalot could be in line for a recall. If Ashley Young shifts back to his traditional left back spot, young Dalot seems the obvious choice on the right. Something needs to change in defense — and Dalot looked promising in his brief moments on the pitch.
He’s definitely got the talent to step in at right back and never look back. This could be the shot in the arm that United’s backline so badly needs.
If there’s a silver lining to all of this, it’s that Manchester United face their weakest opposition in months. Crystal Palace sit just outside the relegation zone — and only on goal difference. With just eight points so far, Roy Hodgson and company have their work cut out to put some distance between them and the drop.
In their last match, Palace dropped a 1-0 heartbreaker to Tottenham Hotspur at Selhurst Park. But, to make matters even worse, several of the club’s top players suffered injuries that could hamper them this weekend.
Defenders Aaron Wan-Bissaka and James Tomkins both picked up knocks during the Spurs defeat. Wan-Bissaka’s shoulder injury even forced the youngster to bow out of the England U21 squad. Neither injury looks too serious, but AWB and Tomkins remain questionable for the trip to Old Trafford. Palace can ill afford to lose either one.
Wan-Bissaka may not be a household name yet, but he’s been Palace’s standout player this term. Incredibly, the 20-year-old right back has won the club’s player of the month award every month this season. AWB does it all, ranking as one of the Premier League’s best tacklers while still picking his spots to get forward and push the pace.
Want to feel depressed? Palace’s defense has allowed fewer goals than Manchester United this season. That must infuriate José Mourinho.
Wilfried Zaha missed the Spurs match with a hamstring injury, although Hodgson feels bullish about a quick recovery. The former Red usually starts up front for Palace and flashes the pace to trouble United’s suspect defense. With Christian Benteke already out, Jordan Ayew would lead the line if Zaha can’t go.
If Manchester United dream of a mid-season renaissance, this is a must-win game. There are lots of points still up for grabs between now and New Year's, leaving the club a legit opportunity for upward movement. But it’s got to start on Saturday.