Manchester United’s limitations on show again in Palace draw

Louis van Gaal’s side were lucky to avoid defeat at Selhurst Park

Crystal Palace’s Damien Delaney exchanges words with Manchester United’s Ander Herrera during the Premier League match at Selhurst Park. Photograph:  Anthony Devlin/PA

Crystal Palace’s Damien Delaney exchanges words with Manchester United’s Ander Herrera during the Premier League match at Selhurst Park. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA

 

Crystal Palace 0 Manchester United 0

Manchester United lost ground in the race for the Premier League title with a 0-0 draw at Crystal Palace that could easily have ended in defeat.

Against their improving opponents, United again struggled to convince with a predictable, sluggish display that leaves them at risk of falling outside of the division’s top four.

The starting line-ups of each team suggested that this fixture’s outcome would be decided by whether Palace’s pace, via Jason Puncheon, Dwight Gayle, Yannick Bolasie and Wilfried Zaha, or the intelligence and composure of the visiting Juan Mata, Ander Herrera, Daley Blind and Wayne Rooney would prevail.

In the game’s opening stages, it was unquestionably Palace who provided the greater threat. Gayle forced a reasonable, second-minute save from David de Gea when shooting from close range after Matteo Darmian had clumsily conceded possession, and soon after the goalkeeper reacted even more impressively when tipping Bolasie’s powerful, goal-bound shot from the right on to the bar.

Within a minute those present witnessed another fine save from De Gea, this time when Scott Dann’s header from Yohan Cabaye’s corner was tipped over, though thereafter the expensively assembled visitors began to recover some control.

Palace had lost their previous three fixtures, conceding a total of eight times, and perhaps expectedly their early confidence began to dwindle.

Rooney watched his 25th-minute curling free-kick comfortably palmed away by Palace’s Wayne Hennessey and then hesitated when – with both time and space to score following Anthony Martial’s classy through-ball – struggling to control possession and allowing Hennessey to collect the loose ball.

Palace’s one dimension had been exposed, yet for all of United’s superior quality it became apparent why they had failed to score during their past two games, the second a Capital One Cup defeat by Middlesbrough that also went to extra-time.

Again they played with such caution, as was the case throughout almost all of last season and as has also been for much of this. Angel di Maria has already been one expensive casualty of Louis van Gaal’s reign, and on this evidence there are several who could be the next.

Such unremarkable performances could previously be excused, owing to the players adjusting to their manager’s methods – and Van Gaal working with a largely-inherited squad – but as he has since spent heavily their lack of direction is no longer acceptable.

It almost felt an admission of guilt when, with Palace again improving – albeit without testing De Gea – and United seemingly bereft of ideas, the manager substituted two of his summer signings, Darmian and Bastian Schweinsteiger, for two of those signed before his 2014 appointment, Marouane Fellaini and Ashley Young.

Palace resiliently defended in the game’s closing stages with United targeting Fellaini with repeated long balls, but without the injured Connor Wickham and Marouane Chamakh they lacked their own focal point in attack.

After Dann and Cabaye had again threatened, Bolasie sent another late close-range header over the crossbar when well placed to score, but despite his failure to do so a point and a clean sheet – given Palace’s recent run and the ambitions of their opposition – represented a positive result.

Watford 2 West Ham 0

High-flying West Ham crashed back to earth with a bump as Odion Ighalo inspired Watford to a 2-0 win at Vicarage Road.

Slaven Bilic’s side may have beaten Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City on the road this season, but they came a cropper against the Hornets.

Ighalo claimed he had opened the scoring in the 38th minute by converting Nathan Ake’s cross, but Hammers defender Aaron Cresswell had actually turned the ball into his own net.

But their was no doubting the scorer when Ighalo doubled their lead just after the interval with a clinical strike.

West Ham, meanwhile, had James Collins sent off as their unbeaten record away from home came to a sorry end.

West Brom 2 Leicester 3

Jamie Vardy continued his stunning form with another goal as Leicester edged past West Brom. The England striker has now scored in eight straight Premier League games as he sealed the Foxes’ 3-2 win at The Hawthorns.

He is now just two games away from equalling Ruud van Nistelrooy’s all-time record set in 2003 and is the league’s top scorer with 11 goals in as many matches.

Riyad Mahrez had already scored twice – although his second should have been disallowed for offside – as the visitors remain unbeaten on the road.

Salomon Rondon’s second goal in two games put the Baggies ahead but they missed the chance to record three successive wins for the first time since 2012.

Rickie Lambert scored his first goal for Albion from the penalty spot late on but it could not rescue the hosts.

Newcastle 0 Stoke 0

Goalkeeper Jack Butland was the hero as Stoke left Newcastle with a hard-earned point as the Magpies once again failed to make the most of their chances.

Butland made two second-half saves from Moussa Sissoko, including a stunning effort with seven minutes remaining, and others from Ayoze Perez and substitute Jamaal Lascelles having needed the help of a post to deny Aleksandar Mitrovic before the break in front of a crowd of 47,139.

He more than anyone prevented Steve McClaren’s men from securing the win they needed to ease the pain of their derby defeat at Sunderland, and they remain deep in trouble with only one Premier League win to their name so far this season.

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