After clawing a hard-fought point off Wolves earlier this week, Manchester United return home on Saturday to take on Crystal Palace. The Reds remain unbeaten after two league matches, while Palace are still looking to break into the win column. Here’s everything that you need to know ahead of the match.
(1) For Manchester United, it was a tale of two halves at Molineux. The Reds jumped all over their hosts at the start, dominating possession en route to Anthony Martial’s opening goal. That clinical finish came minutes after the new (and old) #9 wasted an even better chance at the back post. After the break, though, Wolves grew into the game and deservedly equalized on Ruben Neves’s long-range stunner. United had their chances — Paul Pogba’s penalty chief among them — but can’t really argue with a draw. All of that energy and possession only resulted in two shots on goal.
(2) Wolves pressed a bit, but mostly sat back and absorbed United’s pressure. Get ready for a lot more of that on Saturday. Crystal Palace won’t come out and play like Chelsea in the opener — which, considering their injury woes, was more than a bit reckless. Don’t count on much space for counterattacks. The Palace bus will be well and truly parked.
(3) If United win another penalty this weekend, pray that Marcus Rashford snatches the ball. Despite Pogba’s seven successful penalties a season ago — which accounted for nearly half his goal total — his record from the spot is... well, spotty. His 64% success rate ranks among the worst in Premier League history (with at least ten attempts). Worryingly, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer insisted after the Wolves draw that he’s satisfied with both Rashford and Pogba as designated penalty takers. Let’s hope that’s just a polite answer to avoid throwing all of the blame on Pogba.
4 - Paul Pogba has missed four penalties in the Premier League since the start of last season; the most of any player in the competition. Fluffed. pic.twitter.com/NI1odCCBg5— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 19, 2019
(4) Keep an eye on the battle between Wilfried Zaha and Aaron Wan-Bissaka. With Zaha often patrolling the left side of Palace’s attack, these erstwhile teammates should spend plenty of time going head-to-head on Saturday. AWB recorded nine tackles against Wolves, far and away the most by any Red, and now leads the entire Premier League in that category. If he can neutralize Zaha — and even pin him back with the occasional foray into the final third — Palace will struggle to create chances.
(5) For all that Jesse Lingard offers to Solskjaer’s high-press, he desperately needs to up his game on the offensive end. The 26-year-old hasn’t tallied a goal or assist since last December. Ugly stuff for any attacker playing big minutes. Still, Lingard’s energy and tireless pressing make this new system tick, presenting the boss with a tough selection dilemma. Promoting Juan Mata, Andreas Pereira, or even Angel Gomes could create a “robbing Peter to pay Paul” situation.
(6) Anthony Martial looks reborn in the #9 shirt and now stands on the brink of club history. If the Frenchman scores again on Saturday, he will join Dwight Yorke, Ruud van Nistelrooy, and Wayne Rooney as the only Reds to score in the first three games of the season.
Anthony Martial for Manchester United in the Premier League so far:— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) August 20, 2019
most touches in oppo. box (15)
most successful take-ons (8)
most shots on target (3)
most goals (open play) (2)
joint most goals (2)
AM9 has started well. pic.twitter.com/JnK3uNlosi
(7) Roy Hodgson will never be known as an adventurous tactician, but his proverbial safe hands still get results. The veteran manager arrived at Selhurst Park in 2017 under less than ideal circumstances — with Palace winless (and goal-less) — and strong favorites for the drop. Hodgson went to work, binning Frank de Boer’s expansive style in favor of a more conservative one, and Palace zoomed up the table to safety. In 2018/19, he went one better — leading his Eagles to 49 points, their best finish as a Premier League club.
(8) Hodgson’s style doesn’t win much acclaim from neutrals (or even large swathes of the home support), but fans of mid-table overachievers tire of pragmatic football at their own peril. Just ask Stoke City or West Brom how they’re enjoying the post-Tony Pulis era. Surviving in the Premier League with compact, defensive football is better than going down “the right way.” Without major investment — and, no, the £6 million spent this summer ain’t it — that should be good enough.
(9) If Crystal Palace run aground, the shocking lack of backing this summer will deservedly take the blame. Despite cashing in Aaron Wan-Bissaka for £45 million, the London club spent barely 10% of that windfall. Jordan Ayew and James McCarthy cost only modest fees, while Gary Cahill and Stephen Henderson came on free transfers. These moves, with the possible exception of Victor Camarasa’s loan from Real Betis, don’t really move the needle. Palace need big leaps forward from incumbents like Christian Benteke and Max Meyer.
(10) Still, it wasn’t an altogether horrible summer for the club. Palace doggedly hung onto wantaway Wilfried Zaha and convinced captain Luka Milivojevic to sign a new four-year contract. After flirting with a move to Arsenal earlier in the window, Zaha handed in a transfer request just before deadline day as Everton eagerly circled. But Palace held firm and refused to let their best player skip town. The talented 26-year-old has finally begun to realize his vast potential and could easily mean the difference between mid-table safety and relegation. As such, he’s worth a king’s ransom to Crystal Palace.
(11) The Zaha transfer saga, though, continues to rear its head in the opening weeks of this season. He didn’t start against Everton and then looked a bit rusty in Sunday’s 1-0 loss at Sheffield United. Without Zaha at full throttle, Palace will struggle against any Premier League side. One point from two matches isn’t a great return — and now it’s up to Manchester United to pile on even more misery this weekend.