Manchester United went down 3-1 at home to Crystal Palace on Saturday, in a terrible start to their new Premier League campaign. The Reds struggled throughout the match, with a late goal from summer signing Donny van Der Beek proving nothing more than a consolation against a brilliantly organised Palace.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær sprung some surprises with his team selection, preferring Scott McTominay to van der Beek, and, perhaps even more bizarrely, Daniel James to Mason Greenwood.
It took just eight minutes for Palace to punish United’s pedestrian passing game. Some poor defensive play from Victor Lindelöf allowed Jeffrey Schlupp to drill a cross towards the back stick, where Andros Townsend beat Luke Shaw to the ball and stabbed past David de Gea for 1-0.
The Eagles were on top throughout the game’s opening quarter, and created a sequence of half-chances to double their lead. Only gradually did United settle, and their few early opportunities came to nothing: Vicente Guaita denied Paul Pogba from the edge of the area, before a deflected McTominay shot flashed wide.
Even as United grew into the game, they didn’t look much like scoring. Palace were typically well organised, and the hosts struggled to string coherent passing moves together. It was an example of Hodgsonball at its most effective. By halftime, Palace might’ve been two up, but David de Gea did well to divert a powerful Jordan Ayew shot over the crossbar.
Solskjær looked to shake things up at halftime, withdrawing the ineffectual James for Greenwood. There was little immediate improvement, and 20 minutes later van der Beek was handed his debut in place of Pogba. The Reds dominated possession, but still couldn’t break through the banks of white shirts.
For all of their defensive organisation, Palace remained a threat on the counter-attack, and Wilfried Zaha thought he’d sealed the points midway through the second half. He broke through United’s defence and prodded into the top corner, though the goal was correctly ruled out for offside after VAR review.
Moments later the visitors finally did double their advantage, but it was a goal mired in controversy. Referee Martin Atkinson awarded Palace a penalty after VAR review, with Lindelöf adjudged to have blocked an Ayew effort with his arm — despite the fact that there was almost nothing the Swede could have done to get out of the way. As if that wasn’t contentious enough, De Gea saved Ayew’s nonchalant spot-kick, only for another VAR review to show that the Spaniard jumped inches off his line while doing so. A retake was ordered, and this time Zaha stepped up to convert Palace’s third.
United clawed their way back into the game with 10 minutes left on the clock. It was a scruffy goal, coming as a hopeful Timothy Fosu-Mensah cross fell at the feet of new signing van der Beek, who gratefully slotted home from point-blank range.
Alas, United’s hopes of salvaging a point were fleeting, snuffed out by a fine Zaha goal just minutes later. The former United man all too easily wriggled free of Lindelöf, and buried a low shot inside De Gea’s near post. It was a fine goal, and capped a deserved win for Palace. United have plenty of work to do.