Goal drought continues as subdued Manchester United held at Palace
United 14 points behind leaders City ahead of Sunday’s Manchester derby
Crystal Palace midfielder James McCarthy moves in to challenge Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes during the Premier League match at Selhurst Park. Photograph: Matthew Childs/AFP via Getty Images
Crystal Palace 0 Manchester United 0
Ole Gunnar Solskjær must be wondering where all the goals have gone. A third successive 0-0 draw may have extended Manchester United’s unbeaten away record to 21 Premier League matches but another timid performance despite the array of talent on display was further evidence that the manager has plenty of work to do.
Now 14 points behind their neighbours as their procession to a third league title in four years continues, United laboured in attack all evening against opponents who are made in the image of Roy Hodgson.
It was another triumph of defensive organisation for Palace and there was no doubt who left the dugout in a better mood at the final whistle.
Solskjær revealed before kick-off that David de Gea’s absence from the matchday squad was due to “personal reasons” as Dean Henderson made only his third Premier League start of the season – one of four changes from the side that drew with Chelsea on Sunday.
With Edinson Cavani as the spearhead of an attacking formation, it was clear that United wanted to make up for their shortcomings in the stalemate at Stamford Bridge. Leicester’s draw at Burnley earlier on also offered further incentive for the visitors to cement themselves in second spot, even if they know they realistically stand little chance of catching Manchester City whatever the result of Sunday’s derby.
Palace had managed just six shots in their last two matches yet still managed to pick up four points towards their bid to secure survival for another season despite the absence of Wilfried Zaha. The Ivory Coast international was deemed not fit enough to return against his former club having scored twice in Palace’s 3-1 victory at Old Trafford earlier in the season.
Hodgson made just one change from the side that started the 0-0 draw against Fulham here on Saturday and it was the hosts who made the more impressive start on a misty evening in south London that must have made it hard for United’s players wearing their black and white ‘zebra’ third kit.
A mistake from Harry Maguire almost ended in another Christian Benteke wonder goal after he was picked out by Andros Townsend but this time the Belgian striker’s effort sailed high into the Sainsbury’s end. But it took a spectacular save from Vicente Guaita to deny a shot from Nemanja Matic after it deflected wickedly off James McCarthy, with the Spaniard at full stretch to tip the ball over the bar.
Cavani should then have scored from the resulting corner after a goalbound header fell at his feet after inadvertently striking Marcus Rashford, who also passed up a good opportunity moments later. Mason Greenwood was next to try his luck with a shot that deflected wide as United began to dominate possession and territory but Palace also looked threatening when Eberechi Eze or Jordan Ayew had the ball at their feet in advanced positions.
United have only been ahead at half-time in six Premier League matches so far this season but Cavani almost made it seven when a brilliant cross from Aaron Wan-Bissaka was intercepted at the very last moment by Joel Ward.
Palace, who knew that a victory would be enough to move them above Leeds and into 11th spot, were once again quickest out of the blocks as another acrobatic effort from Benteke deflected over for a comer before Ayew stung Henderson’s gloves with a powerful drive from just inside the area.
Hodgson had made clear his unhappiness that this game was “thrusted” upon his players after it was brought forward from later in the month to allow United to play their FA Cup quarter-final against Leicester on March 21st instead.
Yet if they were feeling the exertions of the backs to the wall performances in their last two matches, Palace certainly didn’t show it. A volley from Andros Townsend that bobbled just wide of the post was another warning shot for United as they once more struggled to find any attacking rhythm. “Move the ball. Side to side,” bellowed a frustrated Solskjær as another move broke down on the edge of Palace’s box.
Another heated exchange between Rashford and Maguire after the forward was caught offside also showed frustration was clearly mounting.
It wasn’t until substitute Daniel James – on for a subdued Cavani – saw his header deflected over the bar by Patrick van Aanholt that United even looked like scoring.
Greenwood’s effort from just outside the area which flew narrowly over the bar as the fog descended quickly was the closest they came, with Van Aanholt then failing to take a chance that would have given Palace their first ever home victory over United in the Premier League at the 12th attempt. Solskjær should probably be grateful for small mercies. – Guardian