They were second best against Crystal Palace at Old Trafford and for Ed Woodward it may have been a relief that no fans were in attendance, as the mood grows more sour as United threatens to stumble. through another transfer window.
This summer had seen Harry Maguire in Greek court, Mason Greenwood returned to the court of public opinion, players returning to pre-season at staggered intervals, quarantines and positive Covid-19 tests and a transfer window that can not be so far as possible. described as disappointing. If Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was hoping that the return of real football could lift morale, then at the end of those 90 minutes he would have looked for a new distraction.
Some of those performances can be attributed to the fitness levels United are still building at the moment, but the reality is that the next three weeks until the transfer window closes on October 5 will define this season. .
Each of United’s top six rivals have done more business than they’ve done so far this summer and unless that changes by the first Monday in October, the club will find themselves left for account.
They have constantly spoken out about the realities of a transfer window during the Covid-19 pandemic, but other clubs are finding ways to spend the money and strengthen their squad. United have so far failed to do so. If they don’t sign Jadon Sancho or find other targets that will add something more to this squad, then they will be left in the mirrors at the top of the table.
United might think their cautious approach makes sense, and let’s be fair, it could still pay dividends, but the alternate reality is that last season’s improvements on the pitch are being marred by a dire window. Even if they sign Sancho again, this team will catch up given that defeat, the kind of loss that teams who hope to close the gap to Manchester City and Liverpool simply cannot accept.
How many millions does it take from the price Sancho asks to make a home loss to Crystal Palace more palatable?
The only area of the United squad where there is now strong competition for places is in the midfield, but two of the three who started against Crystal Palace have left themselves vulnerable.
It would be a shock if Paul Pogba was dropped, but he was terrible against Palace, neglected from the first minute and offering nothing to United in an offensive sense. Scott McTominay worked hard in a deep midfielder role but it was noticed how Palace looked like a threat during the break.
They regularly bypassed the midfield and found Wilfried Zaha, Andros Townsend, Jeffrey Schlupp and Jordan Ayew in United defense. It was too easy to get McTominay out of the game with one pass. This is something that Nemanja Matic, absent due to his late return to preseason training, excels at. His sense of position as a defensive midfielder is superb and it allows United to play with more confidence in the future.
At one point Solskjaer will also want to play Donny van de Beek early on and given that he came against Palace and played an advanced role, Fernandes diving deeper and then continued to score, this midfielder’s makeup ground. and who plays where is one of the many issues that will impose on the United boss over the next few weeks.
Play with intensity
United’s best spells last season came when they had the fitness levels to play hard, especially in the final third, supporting the opposition well and causing them problems with movement speed and passing.
But when that intensity drops, United look at an inferior team. Solskjaer has already said he wants his team to be the fittest in the league, but they can’t support this effort just yet.
United will probably never be at their best in this game, but they still should have had more quality in the attacking zones than they managed to produce. Fernandes, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial were the shadows of the players who lit up the Premier League’s resumption last June.
Instead, much of their offensive play was pedestrian and predictable. A team as well-trained as Crystal Palace, led by a systematic defensive coach of Roy Hodgson, would always want to defend against these attacks.
United’s X-Factor was their speed at the break and their precision around the zone in the second half of last season. None of this was on display against Palace.
How to use Daniel James
It was another sub-par performance from Daniel James in the Premier League and he had no reason to complain when he was replaced by Greenwood at half-time.
James offered little threat from the right and failed to build on Villa Park’s encouraging performance a week ago in United’s only pre-season friendly, but mostly he played more than left at the time and despite United’s determination to flog him on the right, the evidence is clear that he is much more effective on the opposite flank.
It could mean the Welsh international is being used as a cover for Rashford, but by continually using it on the right United is wasting James.
It’s a forward three that thrives on cutting wingers on the inside, combining with forwards and forward midfielders thanks to quick passes and pace behind. When playing on the right, it’s natural for James to look to get out of his full-back, but from that position he has no real options. It’s time to use James where he plays his best football.
After the record number of penalties United won last season, there was a lot of schadenfreude on Twitter when Palace first received a questionable handball decision against Lindelof and then got a chance to pick it up when David de Gea was ridiculously punished for his absence. his line saving Ayew’s effort.
Handball’s decision was already bad, with Lindelof not having time to react when the ball was shot directly at him, but De Gea was just millimeters from his line, if he was even out of his line, during the stop. If penalties are repeated for this this season, at least eight of the 10 saves will be penalized by a restart. It is a rule that must be rethought.