New Reality Sinks In For Man Utd As Palace Clash Looms
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This isn’t the 1999 treble winning Manchester United side with the Class of ’92 at the core of it.
Nor is it the 2008 team that won the Champions League, and included a front three of Carlos Tevez, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney. It isn’t even the 2013 outfit that Robin van Persie dragged to the Premier League title.
What we’re seeing in 2019, is a Manchester United in transition, a club that has to jump from a sixth place finish last campaign and Europa League football, to fourth - and a spot in the Champions League, which UK bookmakers now reckon is an 11/10 chance (+110).
Too much time has already been spent discussing how United have fallen in the six years since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, and who might be to blame. But, given how they ended the 2018/19 campaign, most United fans would have taken the start to the season they've had if it had been offered as, after two Premier League games, the side has four points, five goals, and just the one conceded.
That puts them in fourth position, the bookies suggesting not only that they have a 46% shot at staying there, but that their odds of finishing second in the Premier League are now 9/1 (+900). Which is better than Chelsea, and only two digits behind Arsenal.
Wolves Draw Showed Weakness
On Monday evening against Wolves, United started the first half in the same fashion they finished the game against Chelsea the week before. The only frustration for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is that his team didn’t go in at the break two or three goals ahead - it was one.
It’s impossible for United to press for 90 minutes in the way Solskjaer and his staff might like. What it also means is that they’ll have to accept that teams will have a spell during the game in charge, and when that happens, they’ll have to deal with it better than how they did on Monday evening.
Wolves had a 10-minute period before the goal when they asked questions of United and were duly rewarded with Ruben Neves’ sublime strike.
It was the test United fans would have welcomed, and they’ll also be happy with how their team responded, because on another night Paul Pogba converts the later penalty, and United leave with three points and a place at the top of the table.
Will Dan James Line Out Again?
It’s possibly a sign of how well United supporters think they are progressing under Solskjaer, that they left the ground frustrated with a share of the points, and this weekend there’s an opportunity to return to winning ways in front of their home support against Crystal Palace.
Welsh international Dan James was given his full debut on Monday evening and it will be interesting to see if he is given the nod once again ahead of the more conservative Andreas Pereira.
Second half substitute Armand Traore helped Wolves back into the contest by isolating Luke Shaw further up the pitch, and in Andros Townsend and Wilfried Zaha, Palace possess their own pacey forwards, who are capable of asking questions of United in that final third.
Another weak spot Palace manager Roy Hodgson might look to exploit, is in front of the United back four. Solskjaer went with a midfield three of Pogba, Scott McTominay and Jesse Lingard at Wolves, which meant there were times when Diogo Jota and Neves were left to roam and create problems in and around McTominay.
Hodgson Wants Out Of Sack Race Odds
Palace don’t have the same quality from central areas, but Christian Benteke is capable of holding the ball up and releasing runners from midfield positions.
An opening day draw with Everton followed by an away defeat to newly promoted Sheffield United means that Hodgson will be eager to get his first three points of the season on the board quickly, and already he finds himself towards the top of the Premier League Sack Race odds.
Only Newcastle's Steve Bruce betters him in the market, with bookmakers making it a 4/1 (+400) chance that Hodgson will be the next manager to leave his post. So what can he do?
Palace’s result at United will not define Hodgson’s future, or Palace’s season, but it’s worth keeping in mind that on his last trip to Manchester with Palace, Hodgson masterminded their win at neighbours Manchester City.
If the visitors can this Saturday frustrate United for long enough, and stay in the game, they’ll have noticed from United’s matches against Wolves and Chelsea, that there are holes in Solskjaer’s setup.
The worry for the South Londoners is, if United start as they did against Wolves and create more chances. If that turns out to be the case, by the time Palace have their spell going forward, United might be too far ahead.
Hence, it's United who are long odds-on favourites to win at a general 4/11 (-275), while Crystal Palace are given 8/1 (+800), and the draw is 4/1 (+400).
About the Author
Tom McDermott is an author, journalist, consultant and member of the Football Writers' Association. He has contributed to an array of publications, including Sky Sports, Sporting Life and FourFourTwo, while also being the creator of Manchester United fansite and podcast The United End.