Manchester United will face Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park in the final Premier League match of the season on Sunday afternoon. Because West Ham United drew 2-2 with Manchester City in their penultimate match of the season, if United win UEFA Europa League participation is theirs.
However, if United fall to another away defeat of the season, coming after that 4-0 hammering by Brighton and Hove Albion almost a fortnight ago, it will be in the hands of the Hammers to leapfrog United and take the Europa League themselves, leaving United to another fall from grace.
United could still make the playoff round of the UEFA Europa Conference League next season, which would be a remarkable fall from grace comparing recent seasons where UEFA Champions League football was obtained.
Since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, United have qualified for the Champions League five times, the Europa League twice, reaching Europa League or Europa Conference League this season; they also had a season out of European football. Next season marks a decade post-Ferguson.
Previous meetings with Crystal Palace and their connections with United.
United and Palace have met 25 times in the Premier League. United have won 18 times, drawn five times with Palace winning two times. United have scored 45 goals, winning four penalties, scoring three. Palace have scored 13 goals, winning one penalty, scoring it.
United have kept 17 clean sheets with Palace keeping four. Discipline has been an issue with United players receiving 35 yellow cards and one red card and Palace players being shown 40 yellow cards and two red cards. The final match of the season needs to be a good one for United.
Wilfried Zaha, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Fraizer Campbell and Timothy Fosu-Mensah have all played for United and Palace. Jeffrey Schlupp was once on trial at United but was not signed and never represented the senior team. Campbell and Fosu-Mensah came through United’s academy.
Wilfried Zaha was Sir Alex Ferguson’s final signing as manager of the club in January 2013 and he ended up making just four appearances for United failing to score a single goal for the club, signing Palace 18 months later. Aaron Wan-Bissaka was purchased from Palace in the summer of 2019.
Here is my predicted starting XI to face Crystal Palace in the Premier League at Selhurst Park on Sunday afternoon…
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
David De Gea has been one of the standout players this season, not that some so-called supporters on Twitter would agree because it does not fit their agenda. The facts are there to be seen though. De Gea has been a good servant to United and he will want to remain at the club.
This will be the third time in his United career that he has played in every Premier League match of the season, but with not much left to fight for, it will be a lacklustre end to the season. United will need to win in order to qualify for the UEFA Europa League.
Dean Henderson will be frustrated that he might not get any game time but Ralf Rangnick has not really trusted him this season. Some suggest that Henderson is one of the best goalkeepers at the club but he’s got a way to go before he’s at the right level, in my opinion at least.
Defenders: Diogo Dalot, Raphaël Varane, Harry Maguire, Alex Telles
United’s defence has been terrible this season. United have scored just one more goal (57) than they have conceded (56). That is not good enough for this club. Manchester City have scored 96 goals, conceding 24 with Liverpool scoring 91 and conceding 25. United should be there too.
I would expect to see Diogo Dalot start in the right-back position with Alex Telles in the left-back position. Luke Shaw has been training again, but has become a dad again and missed training one day this week, so might not be fit to start or be on the bench – but I think he could be on the bench.
In the centre of the defence I would expect to see Raphaël Varane and Harry Maguire partnering for the final match of the season and the duo will need to be in the work to try and get United the three points needed to qualify for the Europa League next season.
Midfield: Fred, Scott McTominay
United’s midfield has suffered this season for various reasons, even if at the start of the season it looked pretty stocked. There is work ahead of next season with the departure of Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matić plus whether Donny van de Beek has a future under Erik ten Hag.
Against Palace, I would expect to see Fred and Scott McTominay start in the two-man midfield, which has been the best partnership in the midfield post-Jose Mourinho, in my opinion. They have been trusted by Ole Gunnar Solskjær, Michael Carrick and now Rangnick.
Granted, they are not the best midfielders in the world, but they are the best options United have at this time and it is hoped that changes will be made in the summer to add some steel in these positions which would really help United turn a corner – and should have been done last summer.
Attacking Midfield: Jadon Sancho, Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford
This is perhaps an area that has let United down this season. Jadon Sancho has scored five goals, assisting three and now that he has recovered from tonsillitis, he should be fit to start this match, which would help United a little. He will be determined to finish the season strongly.
Marcus Rashford has been terrible this season. He has also scored five goals, assisting two which is poor considering what he has achieved in the past few seasons. He will need to get something strung together because his contract will expire next summer, although there is a one-year option.
Bruno Fernandes is the player here that has had a better season than most, but based on his first 18 months at the club, it has not been good enough. Scoring 10 goals and 14 assists, he’s just behind his compatriot Cristiano Ronaldo in terms go goals, albeit some 14 goals behind him.
Forwards: Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo has not been at his best this season and has shown many signs of frustration. Of course, it is not all down to him as the creativity of the squad has been terrible. If he was at United during the 2019/20 season and the 2020/21 season, it could have been spectacular.
Ronaldo has scored 24 goals in all competitions this season, assisting three goals. He is just four goals behind Mohamed Salah, who has 24 goals in the Premier League this season, with Ronaldo scoring 18 in the league. A hat-trick against Palace could get him up there competing at 37.
Whilst that seems slim, although he has two hat-tricks this season, it is not impossible, just unrealistic. United need a win in this match and no matter the result for West Ham, who will face Brighton and Hove Albion, those three points will be enough for United to finish sixth. yey!
Substitutes: Dean Henderson; Phil Jones, Luke Shaw; Juan Mata, Nemanja Matić, Hannibal Mejbri, Charlie Savage; Edinson Cavani, Anthony Elanga
Rangnick will have nine substitutes to choose from in the final match of the season. Alejandro Garnacho seems unlikely to be fit to face Palace so the likes of Charlie Savage and Hannibal Mejbri could be called upon if there is a chance to play them.
Dean Henderson will be on the bench again, not that he will like that. In defence, Phil Jones and Luke Shaw, if fit, could be available – if not, Aaron Wan-Bissaka could make the bench, despite not being in the plans for the club next season, reportedly at least.
Juan Mata, Nemanja Matić, Hannibal Mejbri and Charlie Savage could be available in the midfield, with the emphasis on youth plus Edinson Cavani and Anthony Elanga could be called upon in the attacking ranks. There will be a few final goodbyes in this match, which is expected and needed.
Written by John Walker