Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 27 November 2020

Wilfried Zaha at the double as Crystal Palace ensure miserable start to season for Manchester United

United stumble out of the blocks with poor performance against the flying Eagles at Old Trafford

In the game that could have been Jadon Sancho’s debut, on the day that their long-term target Gareth Bale signed for someone else instead, Manchester United’s evening instead revolved around a winger they signed and cast aside.

Wilfried Zaha was only granted four appearances for them in 2013. On his return to Old Trafford, he delivered a brace.

United’s slow, sluggish performance brought a false start to their season. Crystal Palace were United’s opponents and opposites, offering the organisation at the back and the cutting edge on the counter attack to win at Old Trafford for a second successive season. Andros Townsend and Zaha got the goals, but this was a terrific team performance.

United’s failings were so manifold they could not be solely attributed to a lack of transfer activity. Donny van de Beek, the sole signing they made, did open his account, stabbing in a shot in predatory fashion after the ball bounced off Joel Ward, but even that invited questions if he should have started.

With the Dutchman confined to a cameo, United suffered their first league defeat since January, ending a 14-game unbeaten run.

In their defence, it was only 34 days after last season finished and without anything resembling a normal pre-season, it was understandable they looked rusty and last year they were at their best when they were at their sharpest.

Bruno Fernandes, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford collected awards before kick-off as the fans’ and players’ player of the year and scorer of the goal of their season respectively. None showed such attacking verve on his return.

In contrast, a short break brought a change of fortunes for Palace as they extended their fine away record at the elite. They finished last season without a goal in 427 minutes on the road. They scored inside eight minutes here.

If it had been tempting to wonder if this would be a campaign too far for Roy Hodgson, the 73-year-old has began it at a canter. His gameplan was intelligent and was executed excellently.

Palace were brighter from the beginning. Solskjaer resolved his first major selection decision of the season in favour of the incumbent, keeping David de Gea in goal and putting his new challenger, Dean Henderson, on the bench. De Gea’s first notable act was to scuff a clearance to James McCarthy. His second was to retrieve the ball from the back of his net.

Jeffrey Schlupp escaped down the visitors’ left flank all too easily – United had benched the former Palace right-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who might have presented stiffer resistance – and crossed. Townsend escaped from Luke Shaw to supply the finish and, already, equal his tally in last season’s Premier League.

In De Gea’s defence, he ended the half better than he started it. After Zaha led a trademark Palace counter-attack, Jordan Ayew, a scorer at Old Trafford last season, threatened to repeat the feat with a rising shot that the goalkeeper did superbly to tip over the bar.

Zaha had a goal rightly disallowed for offside but if that amounted to a simple decision, Palace’s second brought two contentious ones.

After an intervention from VAR, Martin Atkinson looked at the pitchside monitor, saw Ayew’s scooped shot hit Victor Lindelof’s hand – even if there was little the Swede could do to get out of the way – and awarded the spot kick.

De Gea saved Ayew’s tame penalty but Jonathan Moss, the VAR, spotted the goalkeeper had strayed off his line. This time Zaha stepped up and scored with rather more conviction.

He completed a personal double with a shot that flew past a motionless De Gea. United, meanwhile, were muted and largely restricted to long shots by Palace’s defiant defence.

Mason Greenwood came off the bench to miss one fine chance. Van de Beek came on and scored, but that only prompted a response in kind from Zaha.

Updated: September 19, 2020 11:41 PM

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