It was a draining performance to witness. It left you absolutely bewildered, with a somber heaviness that you instantly wished could be lifted away from you, washed away into the abyss, and relegated to the far recesses of the memory – so far away that your mind tricks you that it never happened in the first place.
You could almost hear a furious sucking sound evacuating all the excitement, anticipation, and rah-rah spirit out of the balloon red devils fans everywhere had lofted up to distract them from the insipid showing the Manchester United board had displayed so far in the transfer market.
We desperately needed something to distract us from the fact that the suits, puppeteered by the brood of Glazers, who are systematically cannibalizing the club from within, were showing alarmingly small interest in properly backing Solskjær’s fledgling project. United fans needed a distraction – they got a disaster instead.
Shocking Stat - It has been 5 years since United brought in a Right-Winger (Zaha)
There was a welcomed buoyancy to the trivial mental exercise of guessing whether United’s new Dutch wonder from Ajax, Donny van de Beek, would be handed a start in the first eleven against Crystal Palace. Fan’s toyed with several formation iterations, it was exciting to think about the kind of impact and bolstering he would bring to the center of the park. Like most new debutants into the EPL, it was unsurprising that, ultimately, Solskjær opted to leave him on the bench to opt for Paul Pogba who had just recently overcome a bout with the deadly coronavirus.
Three other squad players were uprooted from the bench and handed starts - Timothy Fosu-Mensah at right-back, Scott McTominay in the double pivot, and Daniel James at right-wing. Ole had to put out a diluted squad due to the combination of late returns back to training, and not enough fitness work under their belt. The team had only played one friendly prior to kickoff at Old Trafford – and it showed. United looked depressingly flat, unfit, and uninspiring.
Pogba was withdrawn for United's new signing Donny van de Beek.
A lot can be said about the tactics of utilizing Solskjær’s favorite formation 4-2-3-1 against a low block 4-4-2 the Eagles employed. However, this duel was won and lost by speed. The swiftness of Zaha, Ayew, Schlupp, and Townsend came to the fore as they twisted and tormented United’s agonizingly sluggish center pairing, they both had a torrid time – Victor Lindelöf in particular suffered a nightmare of a game. While Fosu-Mensah contributed somewhat positively in the final third of the pitch, his absence at the back meant Schlupp and co had an absolute field day on the right hand of De Gea’s goal.
The usual order of things is that Aaron Wan-Bissaka when starting serves as the great destroyer, frantically interrupting pacey opponents making forays from that side, and effectively shielding Lindelöf from the humiliation of trying to deal with strong pacey attackers by himself. Maguire has nothing in his toolbox to alleviate this vulnerability, other than clever positioning which he utterly failed to adopt.
And so just like Sevilla did in the Europa semifinals Palace found easy to run in and pass through the United penalty box, no defender in sight, zipping unhindered right across De Gea’s goal. Many fans deluded themselves in thinking had Shaw been available for the Sevilla game, rather than the young upstart Williams, he would have been a better protector of the far side of the goal – he wasn’t, and Townsend punched his ticket.
Van de Beek scores debut and only United goal.
The hilariously diabolical and robotic implementation of the rules that led to the penalty and the unbelievable decision to grant a retake plays a minor role here. Neither did Lindelöf’s fortuitous contact of his arm with the ball to concede the penalty, nor Dea Gea’s instinctive raising of feet to nullify his rare penalty save from Ayew’s anemic effort from the spot drove the match beyond United’s grasp.
The team just never got out of first gear, too many fundamental errors, missed runs, missed passes, non-existent shape discipline – players were so lopsided and biased to the left side of the pitch, one might have suspected they were actively social distancing from the right side.
Surprisingly, it was Fosu-Mensah's supply from the right side that ping-ponged off Crystal Palace defenders and made its way into the path of Donny van de Beek who made no mistake zipping the ball into the far side. His debut strike was the only reply the reds could muster against the glaringly fitter, sharper, and faster Eagles.
Donny van de Beek - 6.7 / 10 (66' min)
Mason Greenwood - 5 / 10 (45' min)
Odion Ighalo - (80' min) *brought on too late to assign rating