Manchester United welcome Crystal Palace to Old Trafford in the Premier League on Saturday afternoon in another traditional 3pm kick off this season. Erik ten Hag’s side will be seeking to get back to business in the Premier League after three domestic cup matches which have seen them reach the Carabao Cup final where they will face Newcastle United at the end of the month and reach the last 16 of the Emirates FA Cup, where they will face West Ham United.
United have a great record at Old Trafford this season – undefeated in their last 14 matches at the Theatre of Dreams, winning the last 12 home matches in a row in all competitions. It almost seems like Old Trafford is becoming a fortress once again, as it had been on the past. Under Ole Gunnar Solskjær, United set an away record and under Ten Hag, is seems that turning the Theatre of Dreams back into a fortress is somewhat of a priority for Ten Hag – and rightly so.
United need to start registering more points in the Premier League as in their last two matches just one point was earned. It has seen them slip from third into fourth and allowed Tottenham Hotspur with a chance to break back into the top four. United need to cushion their lead over Spurs and ensure they are safely in the top four with more difficult matches to come in the coming months. The next three Premier League matches should see United pushing for nine points.
Predicted Manchester United Starting XI – 4-2-3-1
Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Martinez, Shaw;
Antony, Fernandes, Rashford;
Goalkeeper: De Gea
David De Gea was rested against Nottingham Forest in the Carabao Cup semi final second leg with United winning 2-0 and keeping another clean sheet in the competition, reaching the final where they will face Newcastle United at Wembley at the end of the month. De Gea will be seeking to keep his 179th clean sheet for United against Palace – getting closer to matching Peter Schmeichel’s clean sheet record at the club – which will be good for United.
Tom Heaton started agains Forest on Wednesday, making it his third appearance for United and his third clean sheet. He is a good understudy for De Gea this season but it will be Jack Butland that looks to get more minutes despite being at the club throughout much of January and him yet to be tested in goal. De Gea has been in good form this season and will be looking to keep that as the season progresses. With Barcelona on the horizon, United need to be at their best.
The Spanish goalkeeper has been at United for 12 years this year and will be hoping that it is prolonged even more with a new contract, on lesser terms being discussed. That said, United will be seeking to find a new goalkeeper for the long-term and with United seemingly up for sale, new ownership could be even better guidance for the club moving forward. De Gea has had a great career at United and to be a part of the future will be good for him too.
Defenders: Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Martinez, Shaw
United’s defence had done wonders this season. Granted, silly goals have been conceded – especially against Palace and Arsenal in the last two Premier League matches. United will need to stop that to achieve this season – especially against better teams. Aaron Wan-Bissaka has been a player in form with Diogo Dalot on the sidelines but with the Portuguese right-back now back in training following a thigh injury, he might have to be content with a place on the bench.
At left-back, Tyrell Malacia has filled in well for Luke Shaw in recent weeks but the England left-back is now back in action, returning against Forest on Wednesday evening and will be seeking to continue to push United from the back, supporting the attack and achieving results for United. The Barcelona match in a fortnight will be important though with Lisandro Martinez suspended, Shaw could play a central defensive role to keep United strong at the back.
In the central defensive positions, Raphael Varane and Martinez should be paired once again this season. Varane had been rested for two of the last three matches, Martinez for one of them so both will be ready and raring to go. Varane retired from international football on Thursday which will prolong his United career. Martinez has just started his international career and will continue to improve in strides. This partnership is the best one United have in defence right now.
Midfield: Casemiro, Sabitzer
United’s midfield has had some problems this week. The first was Christian Eriksen being ruled out for much of the remainder of the season with him likely to be back in late April or early May. It prompted United to make a late move in the transfer window bringing in Marcel Sabitzer from Bayern Munich for the remainder of the season. The other bad news was that Scott McTominay will be out of action for a few weeks with an injury, leaving United short in the midfield.
Casemiro has been the hero for United of late – doing some great things in the midfield and achieving four goals and five assists so far this season, which is great for him and for United. The Brazilian was subject to criticism from the elite of football, sorry they are called pundits. None of them foresaw what he could bring to United and that is the great part – they hate what he has done so far with more likely to happen before the end of the season.
Fred partnered his compatriot against Forest but he could be back on the bench for this match with Sabitzer likely to start alongside Casemiro, proving what he can do this season. His agent described him as a winner who strives to win and wants to play every possible minute for his club. That is the mentality that United need at this time and although Eriksen will be a loss, this will be United’s gain. Hopefully it will all work out for United this season.
Attacking Midfield: Antony, Fernandes, Rashford
These are the positions where the goals are this season. Antony has five goals and one assist so far this season and he is trying to get more goals. In his last two appearances, he has been handful and has been trying to score some great goals, but has fallen short. It is early days for him at United and I believe he will get there, despite the criticism he is getting. United supporters should be excited about him, not tribal and writing him off like he has no talent.
Bruno Fernandes played a part in United’s victory over Forest, helping to carve the second goal for his club. In the previous five matches, he had a goal contribution in each of them before the second Forest match, falling short of getting a goal. That said, the Portuguese midfielder who has been at the club three years now, has six goals and six assists so far this season – and he will be seeking to score more as United continue their season.
Marcus Rashford is the player in form right now. He already has 18 goals so far this season and added two more assists against Forest after coming on in the second half for United. He now has seven assists, just two fewer than Christian Eriksen, who may not feature for much of the remainder of the season. Rashford is the light in this team right now and hopefully his form can ignite Sancho, Martial and those around them which will give United a great attacking line.
Despite Anthony Martial making his return from his latest injury against Forest, I think he will be on the bench against Palace. This will give Wout Weghorst his sixth start in a row for United. The Netherlands international may not be one of the biggest names in club football but he has the right skills to give Ten Hag’s United team a different dimension of attack. The on loan Burnley player has given his all for United, having just one goal to his name so far.
I think he gives United so much more on the attack, freeing up space and allowing other United players to get in the box and score goals. This was something that Cristiano Ronaldo was supposed to be doing but that did not work past last season. Ronaldo was terrible this season and I am glad he has gone. That was a massive mistake by United. He needs to admit that his decline has come at a time whereby the player still thinks he has it all. Getting old is not fun.
Later in the Palace match, Martial could come on and add fresh legs and a different kind of attacking for United, which gives a completely different gameplay for United – which is what a change of personnel should mean for clubs. There is no point in trying the same things over and over again with different players. Variety is the spice of life – or so they say. I think United will do well this season with these attacking players, which could give Ten Hag a great debut season.
Substitutes: Heaton; Lindelof, Maguire, Malacia; Fred, Pellistri; Martial, Sancho, Garnacho
United have a talented squad and Ten Hag is getting almost everything from them at this time. Nine substitutes cane be named on the bench in the Premier League and five of them can be used throughout the match. After his performance on Wednesday evening – keeping his third clean sheet, I would expect Tom Heaton to be on the bench against Palace with Jack Butland ineligible to face his parent club. De Gea will be seeking to get that elusive 179th clean sheet.
In the defence, where United have a good number of options, I would expect Victor Lindelof, Harry Maguire and Tyrell Malacia to be available should defensive reinforcement be required. At the moment though, after some rest, Varane and Martinez will be find to continue but some rotation will be required during the next three matches. Fred and Facundo Pellistri could be available in the midfield, which gives United few opportunities at this time – it is what it is.
In attack, United have a few other options now – which is a good thing. Anthony Martial and Jadon Sancho both returned from the bench against Nottingham Forest with Martial scoring his sixth goal of the season and Sancho playing his first match in more than three months. Alejandro Garnacho will be the other attacking option on the bench. The 18-year-old did well against Forest on Wednesday evening and pressed time and time again – despite getting nothing from that.
Written by John Walker