Next stop Stockholm as Man United ease past Crystal Palace
Josh Harrop opens the scoring on his first team debut with Paul Pogba also on target
Manchester United midfielder Josh Harrop celebrates scoring their opening goal in the the Premier League match against Crystal Palace at Old Trafford. Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images
José Mourinho fielded a side featuring youngsters and appeared to end Manchester United’s final domestic outing with no injuries before Wednesday night’s Europa League final against Ajax in Stockholm.
The one question is whether Paul Pogba was taken off near half-time to rest him or because of a problem, although the midfielder’s body language suggested it was the former.
This may have been Wayne Rooney’s last United match with the captain likely to depart this summer and the sign of the changing times for the club’s 253-goal record scorer was illustrated in this latest anonymous performance. On being substituted two minutes from the end, making way for the 16-year-old Angel Gomes to make his debut, Rooney was given a standing ovation. At 31, though, the harsh truth is that he is a shadow of the force of nature who signed for the club in August 2004.
Before the match Mourinho had fired a barb at Graeme Souness following the latter’s midweek claimed the manager allowed United players “excuses” for poor displays when complaining serially about fixture congestion.
Mourinho’s response was curt. “A pundit is not honest if they cannot forget their colours. It’s not my fault if their managerial career was poor,” he said, referring to Souness’s Liverpool playing career and his time as a manager with eight clubs.
While Sam Allardyce changed James McArthur for Yohan Cabaye and Patrick van Aanholt for Andros Townsend, Mourinho gave four full debuts. These were Joel Pereira, Demetri Mitchell, Scott McTominay and Josh Harrop, along as naming a potential four more as replacements. This made the XI United’s youngest of the Premier League era, at an average of 22 years and 284 days per player.
The new boys started well. From his left-back berth Mitchell curved a sweet 40-yard pass to Rooney whose attempted dink over Wayne Hennessey was too high.
Harrop, 21, had given notice of his skill by winning a corner with some neat footwork and he followed that up soon afterwards with a memorable debut goal. Taking a deft outside-of-the foot pass from Pogba, the Stockport-born Harrop moved forward, cut inside, fashioned a snake-hips swivel that removed Martin Kelly and then produced an excellent right-foot finish to beat Hennessey after 15 minutes. Cue a delirious celebration that had Harrop making an imaginary phone call and rushing to the left corner flag as his team-mates engulfed him.
Four minutes later Pogba doubled the lead. Jesse Lingard played him in and after Joel Ward went tumbling the Frenchman made no mistake. He marked an eighth United strike by hailing the heavens, perhaps dedicating the goal to his recently deceased father.
From here until the break United were in control. The ball was hogged, as McTominay, Axel Tuanzebe and Pogba cordoned off midfield. Palace were becalmed, as they would be throughout. At the interval their threat constituted a Christian Benteke foray and a Luka Milivojevic free-kick at either ends of the half.
At the end of the first half, Michael Carrick came on for Pogba and moments later Anthony Martial entered for Lingard. Allardyce may have given his men a rocket because they started the second half seeming to mean business. The ball was recycled quickly to Wilfried Zaha, who had Carrick flailing at his cross.
Eric Bailly had been momentarily injured near the end of the opening period and now the centre-back took another knock. This had the 20-year-old Matthew Willock about to make debut but Mourinho waved him back to his seat when Baily insisted on continuing.
After Benteke beat Pereira but not his left post United continued to stroll through the contest, playing keep-ball. If this proves Rooney’s swansong he will be relieved that an attempted stabbed clearance from a free-kick went over rather than under Pereira’s bar.
The dying ashes of today’s fare featured a Pereira save from Milivojevic’s free-kick being thumbs-upped by Mourinho. It was that type of day. Now, preparation for United’s serious business of the Europa League final starts.