Manchester United begin their 2020-21 Premier League season with a defeat at home to Crystal Palace, who were a unit defensively, composed in defending within their own half and were impressive on the counter against a very poor backline.
Given the lack of rest that the Red Devils have had from the previous campaign, as they reached the Europa League semi-finals before being eliminated by Sevilla, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his men have not had the necessary rest and ideal pre-season football in order to return to normal fitness levels.
Looking into the game as a whole, the hosts were in full control when it came to dominating possession of the ball, achieving 75% possession, creating two big chances during the match and completing 230 passes in the attacking third. On the other hand, the hosts managed only 43 successful passes in the final third, and still went onto scoring three goals throughout the game.
The Eagles took the lead in the 7th minute of the game, through Andros Townsend, who had beaten Luke Shaw at the far post to meet onto Jeffrey Schlupp’s low cross, and put it past David De Gea and into the back of the net. In all honesty, there was not much action following Townsend’s goal, as United were sloppy and slow on the ball whilst Palace were quite comfortable within a low-block.
Crystal Palace were giving a huge opportunity to double their lead just half way through the second half, as Martin Atkinson pointed to the penalty spot after reviewing the footage of Victor Lindelof handling the ball in the box. Wilfried Zaha stepped up and calmly slotted the ball from the spot.
United were able to get a goal back through Donny Van de Beek, who able to convert his attempt on goal after coming on from the bench for Paul Pogba. However, it was too late to attempt a potential comeback, as Zaha was able to outdo Lindelof and place his shot into the corner away from De Gea. Following the 3-1 defeat at home to Crystal Palace, Manchester United are currently in 15th place whilst Roy Hodgson’s men sit comfortably in 5th place, winning their first two games of the season.
Here are the three things we learnt from United’s first league fixture of the campaign…
Victor Lindelof continually proves to be a defensive liability
For sure, he wasn’t the only individual that was struggling and was absolutely poor from start to end, but it was the defensive mistakes produced by Victor Lindelof that had resulted in Crystal Palace walking away from Old Trafford with the three points. The Swedish international has shown time and time again, that he is unable to deal with one on one situations with a forward or a winger, as the latter are able to dribble, power and stride past the centre-back without any serious issues.
Lindelof has had this rising problem since he had moved to the Premier League a few years ago, and it’s a concerning weakness that has allowed the opposition to specifically target him on the counter-attack. Given the current situation that is presented to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he was to drop Lindelof to the bench anytime soon and replace him with Eric Bailly, who is more dominant and complete, but is battling his own issues in terms of injuries and full fitness.
Nemanja Matic’s absence was costly for the team on and off the ball
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer fielded a three-man midfield of Scott McTominay, Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes, which was lacking the much-needed balance in front of the defence and the ability to win the ball high up the pitch. Without Nemanja Matic, who had returned to training only on Monday and was not prepared to play on Saturday at Old Trafford, the side had great difficulties at protecting the inconsistent backline, being fluid on the ball and remaining calm under pressure.
The 32-year-old may no longer be at his best or have the legs to cover enough area of the pitch, however, his invaluable experience and the balance and composure he brings to the midfield is second to none. Unfortunately, for the manager and the club, they do not have a similar player to Matic, which does mean that they will have to rely heavily on him once again this season.
The lack of business for Manchester United is starting to slowly hurt them
Manchester United have only made one signing so far this window, in Donny Van de Beek, which is not good enough when you are trying to finish in the top four in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson. Not only that, but the board have failed to deliver a left-back and a much needed right-winger, two areas that needed addressing urgently and have not been done so in recent years, resulting in the side’s lack of development and progress as a whole.
The likes of Everton, Spurs and Wolves have been very proactive in the window, and it would not be a total surprise to see either of these three teams finish above the Red Devils in the Premier League. Unless Ed Woodward, the Glazers and the other key individuals within the board make some drastic signings in the final weeks of the transfer window, it will be very difficult for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United to finish in the top four again, looking at the serious competition around them.