United strikers have faded. Even Wayne Rooney never looked like adding anything substantial to proceedings before he hobbled off with a suspected ‘dead leg,’ which doubles as a devious metaphor to describe his strike partners Radamel Falcao and Robin van Persie. The Red Devils had failed to score in over 300 minutes of football. The indifferent, pathetic at times, form of the United front men played a pivotal role in the reality of the recent goals dearth. It is hard to believe that Louis Van Gaal will be satisfied with the output of his 3 star front players at the business end of the season.
In the end it was David de Gea who dragged United over the finish line. The PFA goalkeeper of the year, and the only goalkeeper to make the PFA player of the year shortlist, has been immense for Manchester United from the start of the season. His cat-like reflexes and sheer determination to stem the furious tide from a bellicose Crystal Palace side saved the Red Devils bacon in the second half.
Is it conceivable that similarly big clubs abroad could go the same number of games, 3 games, without registering a goal? If Barcelona, Real Madrid, or Bayern Munich managed a similar drought it would have launched a media firestorm. The fact that it didn’t in this case is somewhat depressing, and indicative of United’s slight fall from the upper echelons of European football. In any case, given the devils wretched form in front of goal, they were in dire need of a hand.
Damien Delaney volunteered his, well his arm actually, all the same to Mike Oliver who pointed to the spot without hesitation. After the customary protest of innocence from Crystal Palace, Mata stepped up to the spot and vanquished United’s parchedness, along with the wretched penalty conversion rate from its star cast. One wonders with amusement what would have happened if Rooney insisted on taking the penalty. Would LVG have dispatched Ryan Giggs to tackle the United skipper NFL style?
Mata celebrates after converting from ths spot. Credit John Peters Getty Images.
This crucial match at Selhurst Park followed the same pattern of the three matches that preceded it. United were once again suckered punched, this time Puncheon delivering the southpaw. The red devils once again controlled possession for large parts, but could only match Palace’s goal attempts at the end. Both sides ended up with 13 shots, 4 on target, despite United’s vastly superior 63 percent possession rate. Palace basically had the same attacking intensity with a fraction of possession – this had to be a major worry. Ashley Young was once again the main attacking instigator and tormentor-in-chief down the left side.
Young was vibrant, and seemed as if he always had the beating of his man. Small wonder it was his wonderfully lobbed cross that found the shaggy cranium of the menace that is Marouane Fellaini who marked his 50th appearance with the match winner. The Belgian scored the winner, but it would be United’s No 1 who won the match.
De Gea congratulated by his captain Rooney after 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace. Credit Ian Walton Getty Images
Glen Murray might never trust his eyes again. De Gea’s cobra-like ability to swell in front of his aggressors, effectively shrinking the goal, and swatting away attempts with impressive hand strength. A far cry from the scrawny Spanish boy, Alex Ferguson signed, who was literally too little for his own clothes and gloves. De Gea kept Palace at bay, as United floundered in the second half, had he not been as brilliant as he was, the gate to the final UEFA Champions League slot would still be open for Brendan Rodgers men to try to bum-rush before the games run out.
It is yet to be seen if the seductive glances from the Bernabéu, have successfully enticed De Gea enough to uproot himself from the theater that gave him his first big platform to grow into the force he is today. What’s for certain is that without the Spaniard, United might have fallen short of their well publicized primary objective of once again hearing the lyrics from the enchanting UCL theme anthem – “These are the champions” bellowed out at Old Trafford again.