Wednesday 26 April 2017

Do Manchester United even need Bale? - Five things we learned from Selhurst Park

Manchester United's English midfielder Ashley Young (front) celebrates after Manchester United's Belgian midfielder Marouane Fellaini (back R) scored his team's second goal
Manchester United's English midfielder Ashley Young (front) celebrates after Manchester United's Belgian midfielder Marouane Fellaini (back R) scored his team's second goal

Ashley Young could save Louis van Gaal money on Gareth Bale - and four other talking points from United's victory at Selhurst Park.

Do United even need Gareth Bale?

It might sound like a curious question, but when Ashley Young is this good, it makes you wonder. The United winger has been the most improved player under Louis van Gaal this season - just edging ahead of Marouane Fellaini - and alongside the ever-excellent David De Gea he was their stand-out performer in a generally sloppy performance at Selhurst Park.

Joel Ward is a fine full-back but the room will still be spinning when he goes to sleep tonight: Young's trickery and pace were far too much for him all afternoon and when United needed a route back into the game in the second half, when they were being pummelled by Palace, it was he that stepped up.

Cutting in from the left, his spun cross was nodded in by Fellaini at the far post after Julian Speroni made a mess of trying to claim it. Young would be one of the potential fall-guys if Bale is signed, but on this form he certainly does not deserve to be dropped.


Blind was cowardly in defence

Daley Blind has been a fine acquisition for Manchester United, a dependable presence at left-back and - by all accounts - a good character and presence within the squad at the Carrington training ground. But if this game taught us anything, it was that he should never - as in, never - be placed in a defensive wall at a free-kick.

The Holland international's attempt to block Jason Puncheon's fairly tame shot early in the second half was comically inept, consisting of staying rooted to the ground, raising his left arm over his eyes in a bizarre Marlon Samuels-style salute and allowing the ball to hit him in the head and loop over the diving David de Gea.

It prompted much internet abuse, and deservedly so: the determination to do everything in his power not to be struck in the face bordered on downright cowardice.


United can take penalties after all

There may have been some controversy surrounding the award of United's first-half penalty, but their record from the spot hardly inspired much confidence. They had missed two of the four they had been awarded this season, including one last week against West Brom, when Robin van Persie's effort was saved.

Today, Juan Mata was handed the responsibility - not exactly a sure-fire guarantee of success given he himself had missed three of his previous four penalties for United. But the Spaniard struck his effort hard enough, and accurately enough, into the bottom left-hand to evade Julian Speroni, despite the Argentine diving the right way.


Luke Shaw needs a change of fortune

The United left-back has had a season to forget since his high-profile transfer from Southampton last summer. First he was criticised by Louis van Gaal over being out of shape; then his form nosedived alarmingly; then he lost his place in the team to Daley Blind.

He was back in the starting XI at Crystal Palace tonight but his luck was still out: an inadvertent elbow from James McArthur left him poleaxed towards the end of the first half and United took no chances, taking him off for Jonny Evans. Shaw desperately needs a clear summer to work on his fitness and convince Van Gaal that he has a long-term future at the club; otherwise, one of the most promising England defenders in years might find himself seeking a new club.


United were right to let Zaha go

Wilfried Zaha is a hugely talented footballer, blessed with lovely feet, electric pace and a better attitude that he is given credit for. But that does not mean Manchester United were wrong to let him leave after his £12million move to Old Trafford turned sour: he simply was not ready for such a daunting stage on which to showcase his skills, or mentally prepared to deal with all the additional baggage that comes with being a United player.

Nothing that happened this evening will have suggested to Louis van Gaal that he should have persevered: he was lively enough against his old team, and Antonio Valencia could never feel completely at ease in defending against him at right-back, but Zaha's final ball was largely innocuous and there were at least two telling occasions when he opted not to shoot when well placed.

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