Tuesday 21 November 2017

Toothless United ride their luck to escape with third straight stalemate

Crystal Palace 0 Manchester Utd 0

Dwight Gayle of Crystal Palace and Daley Blind of Manchester United compete for the ball
Dwight Gayle of Crystal Palace and Daley Blind of Manchester United compete for the ball
Crystal Palace's Ivorian-born English striker Wilfried Zaha (L) vies with Manchester United's Argentinian defender Marcos Rojo

Selhurst park

Louis Van Gaal says it is sticks and stones that break his bones, but a third goalless draw in succession might have tried his constitution. His Manchester United team continue to sap the morale of onlookers, and this was another grinding, uninspired performance.

The good news for them was that it yielded a point because on another day, they would have lost. Crystal Palace were the better, more purposeful team, and their regrets centred upon the chances they passed up. Aside from a few flickers, United barely threatened. Palace were applauded off warmly, and it was easy to recognise their efforts. Yannick Bolasie hit the crossbar in the 10th minute, and Yohan Cabaye missed the big chance on 72 minutes when he was off target when gloriously placed. As with this fixture last season, which United somehow edged, Palace could wonder how they did not win. Their 24-year wait for a league victory over United goes on.

Alan Pardew had demanded maximum intensity from his players and the home support to combat what he described as United's tactic of "lulling" the stadium. "They take the positivity out of it by keeping possession," Pardew said. He got his wish at the outset, as Palace snapped into challenges and pressed hard. United's defensive organisation broke down following a Palace free-kick, and when Scott Dann worked the ball to Bolasie, the winger shot powerfully down and into the ground and watched the ball rear up dangerously. David De Gea showed excellent reflexes to get his fingertips to it and the ball crashed against the crossbar.

United's start was sloppy in the extreme, with right-back Matteo Darmian, guilty of a couple of errors from which he needed De Gea to bail him out. United were flustered, passes went astray and Palace controlled the opening 20 minutes. Cabaye sent in a corner from which Dann worked De Gea, and the travelling United fans were left to implore their team to "attack, attack, attack". Gradually, United found a bit of rhythm and they worked their way into the contest. The second half of the first half was better, as United's passing found more of a groove.

After their roaring start, Palace looked stifled leading up to the interval, and it was United who became the likelier scorers. Wayne Rooney, who led the line with Anthony Martial out left, curled a free-kick over the defensive wall which Wayne Hennessey dealt with comfortably, but United fashioned two good first-half chances.

The first came when Martial drifted inside and released Rooney between the centre-halves. The captain opted not to take a touch and, to his horror, found that the ball was just too far in front of him, allowing Hennessey, who was off his line quickly, to get there first. The second followed Juan Mata's break and Martial's smart cut-back. Ander Herrera arrived and let the ball run across his body for a cushioned shot with the inside of his right foot. He fluffed it.

Rio Ferdinand has said that United fans have to "re-educate themselves on how to watch" their team. In games such as these, the high-octane, flowing stuff feels like a world away. The excitement here came from Bolasie and Wilfried Zaha, the unpredictable Palace wide players, and with Darmian on a yellow card for a block on the latter, Van Gaal replaced him with Ashley Young.

The United fans continued to beg their players to attack, but they failed to do so, their stutters summed up when Herrera got his wires crossed with Bastian Schweinsteiger on a rare break. Herrera was also guilty of going down easily in search of a penalty. Their only flicker came when Martial had a late shot blocked by Damien Delaney.

It was Palace who should have nicked it, with Cabaye passing up the golden chance. Bolasie found Joel Ward, and his cross picked out the midfielder, but, from an unmarked position, he hooked his volley wide of the far post. Dann sent another header from a Cabaye corner inches wide, with Delaney just failing to touch home at the far post, while James McArthur and Bolasie also went close.


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