A short-handed Manchester United squad heads to South London for a mid-week match at Crystal Palace. After a grueling showdown with Liverpool at the weekend — one that leaves five United regulars injured — Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his players must prepare for another tough test against a decent Palace side.
The Eagles stormed past Leicester City on Saturday, winning 4-1 in comprehensive fashion. In fact, the match proved so one-sided and demoralizing that Leicester sacked manager Claude Puel later that night. The win kept Palace thirteenth in the Premier League and stretched their unbeaten run to six games.
“We’re on a good run of form with two very tough matches coming up against Man United and Burnley, but this victory will give us a lot of heart,” Roy Hodgson said afterwards. “All the points you’ve got no one can take away and we’re getting closer, if you like, to that magical number of 40 that we all keep at the back of our minds.”
Fun fact: On Saturday, Hodgson became the oldest manager in Premier League history. The 71-year-old topped Sir Bobby Robson’s record and, with a 4-1 win, did so in fine style.
Michy Batshuayi, who signed on loan from Chelsea on January deadline day, will lead the line for Palace. He scored his first goal for his new club this weekend and should be an important addition to the Eagles. With Wilfried Zaha the only other Palace attacker to show signs of a pulse, Hodgson needs goals aplenty from his new loanee. Interestingly, United already faced Batshuayi twice this season in the Champions League, when the 25-year-old still lined up for Valencia.
Unfortunately, Manchester United’s path to 2019/20 Champions League qualification got a bit trickier on Sunday. After spending the first half of the season desperately trying to cobble together a defense ravaged by injuries, it now looks like the run-in will be hampered by similar problems in midfield and attack.
Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial both sustained injuries against PSG, although Lingard battled his way back to the subs’ bench for Liverpool. Sadly, that determination was not rewarded. Lingard came on early in the match after Juan Mata hurt his hamstring, but lasted only fifteen minutes before re-aggravating his injury and limping off. It’s hard to say whether he was forced back too soon or just a victim of bad luck.
Ander Herrera, too, left in the first half with a bad hamstring. Marcus Rashford also took some bone-rattling hits from Liverpool defenders. But, with all three substitutions already used, he gutted his way through to the full-time whistle. Solskjaer later admitted that Rashford hurt his ankle in the very first minute. That obviously blunted his impact, but saved United from possibly having to play a man down. With his ankle “like a balloon,” Rashford sounds doubtful for Wednesday.
And, of course, there’s Nemanja Matić. The Serbian midfielder picked up a knock in training and looks set for a spell on the sidelines. “He got injured during one of the training sessions a few days ago, so we tried to get him fit for the game but it wasn’t to be,” Solskjaer explained to MUTV. “He’ll probably be out for a couple of weeks.”
Altogether, that puts Manchester United down two starting midfielders, all three frontline attackers, and an important bench piece. Not good.
“We’ve lost a few players with muscle injuries, hamstrings, but we’ve got some good kids coming through, so don’t worry about it,” Solskjaer said. “We’ll have 11 players on the pitch on Wednesday night. Luckily, we’ve got two days of recovery.”
“Michael [Carrick] might be putting his boots on,” Ole joked. “It’s not as bad as needing me yet, but we’re alright. We’ll be fine.”
One bright spot was the strong performance of Scott McTominay. Called on in Matić’s absence, McTominay turned in a composed performance against one of the best teams in the world.
As Solskjaer said above, several of the club’s top academy prospects might find themselves in line for first-team opportunities during this injury crisis. Angel Gomes, Tahith Chong, and James Garner all sat out the U-23 International Cup tie on Monday, possibly hinting towards their involvement at Crystal Palace.
Manchester United are now left to pick up the pieces after an unsatisfying draw with Liverpool and a rash of injuries to critical players. Sunday’s 0-0 result left Liverpool top of the table and United once again looking up at the top four.