Manchester United return to competitive action tomorrow, just 35 days since they ended a mammoth 2019/20 campaign.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s men were given an extra week off by the Premier League due to their European exploits, while Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace wasted no time in getting points on the board with an opening weekend win.
It’s freshness vs form in the tea-time clash tomorrow.
Kick-off: 17:30 [BST]
Venue: Old Trafford
Referee: Martin AtkinsonEmbed from Getty Images
Opening result: Southampton 0-1 Crystal Palace (Wilfried Zaha) – Premier League
Previous result: Bournemouth 0-0 Crystal Palace (11-10) – Carabao Cup
- Scott Banks – Dundee United (£252k)
- Michy Batshuayi – Chelsea (loan)
- Eberiche Eve – Queens Park Rangers (£15m),
- Nathan Ferguson – West Bromwich Albion (free)
Making a surprise start to the top flight season, Palace beat the Saints thanks to an early Zaha goal at Selhurst Park.
Like every year, Hodgson’s men are in many’s relegation picks but managed a valuable three points before a cup defeat at Bournemouth on Tuesday.
The headline from that was captain Luka Milivojević missed a penalty to decide the shootout, his second in a dramatic finale, where even the goalkeepers stepped up.
As ever, signings were needed this summer to maintain their steady survival and they’ve arrived.
Batshuayi bagged six goals in 14 appearances on loan in 2018, while Eze scored 14 times and assisted eight in a stellar year north of the Thames.
Former full-back Nathaniel Clyne is also training with the club with a view to a permanent return, while the Eagles are being linked to Brentford’s £25m-rated Saïd Benrahma.Embed from Getty Images
Nevertheless, despite the constant talk of Zaha departing, Palace already possess a solid squad of proven Premier League players.
Goalkeeper Vicente Guaita had a seemingly underrated term last season and made five saves against Southampton to earn him Man of the Match.
Cheikhou Kouyaté had to fill in at centre-back in their win and alongside him, young left-back Tyrick Mitchell played 90 minutes.
That was because Patrick van Aanholt, who picked up a serious shoulder injury against United at Selhurst Park last season remains sidelined.
Although the midfield is largely uninspiring, Jordan Ayew and the potentially returning Christian Benteke can pose a threat alongside Zaha, who has the capacity to be merc
Both games were tight last term. The Red Devils won 0-2 post-lockdown after Palace shocked Old Trafford last August with a 1-2 win, thanks to Ayew’s opener and a late winner from van Aanholt.
It feels a similar fixture as the sun still shines around Manchester and the Eagles will hope to darken the day again with a rigid structure and clinical counter attack.
They’re also unbeaten in the city over the past two seasons but Hodgson has little time for that record, as you’ll read below.
Injuries/suspensions (estimated return)
- Christian Benteke – foot (two weeks)
- Gary Cahill – thigh (two weeks)
- Nathan Ferguson – knee (four weeks)
- Mamadou Sakho – thigh (two weeks)
- James Tomkins – thigh (two weeks)
- Patrick van Aanholt – shoulder (six weeks)
(4-5-1) Guaita; Ward, Kouyaté, Dann, Mitchell; Townsend, McArthur, Milivojević, McCarthy, Schlupp; Zaha
Quote from the boss
“We rely on our system and style and what we need to do to get a result. Quite frankly, the results you have in the past belong in the past. If we do get our system right, we get a chance of getting ourselves a result.” – Roy Hodgson
THE RED DEVILS
There’s no doubt this summer/autumn has been a disappointing one for United both on and off the pitch following a 3rd-place finish, with only Donny van de Beek arriving and a busy treatment room.
No senior players have departed other than Tahith Chong and James Garner out on loan as many high earners, most notably Chris Smalling, remain contracted at Old Trafford.
However, Solskjær’s squad has a sea of talent and showed what they can do just before and for a long time after lockdown, going unbeaten in the league since their first game of February.
The man who was the most important piece of that puzzle, Bruno Fernandes, today won the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award, testament to his almost immeasurable impact.
Anthony Martial also picked up the Player’s Player award, a sign of his growing reputation within the dressing room at Old Trafford.Embed from Getty Images
The Red Devils have played one friendly to prepare, losing 1-0 last Saturday at Aston Villa without many internationals such as Fernandes and Martial.
It could be a rusty start for United but with their opening day record of 19 wins from 28 games, the best of any Premier League team, and having started the last five campaigns with a win, history is in their favour.
Given Dean Henderson played in the aforementioned friendly, David de Gea is expected to have had ample rest and start between the Old Trafford posts.
On the heavy-debated dilemma, Solskjær commented: “I’m not going to tell you the team, but the goalkeeper training has been great.
“It’s the highest-possible quality you can imagine. Some of the stuff is fantastic,” before the added that the pair were getting on ‘really well.’
He also backed de Gea after his stellar showings for Spain recently after national manager Luis Enrique questioned the level – or lack there of – praise he gets.
The United boss said. “It woildnbe nice if the press talk about what a great goalkeeper we have, and it will be great if the press write about Sergio [Romero] who has not come back yet, he’s had some extra time.”
Paul Pogba tested positive for Covid-19 recently but has been back in training so should be in contention, as is the recovered Luke Shaw.Embed from Getty Images
New signing van de Beek could well start and with speculation surrounding where he’ll play, Solskjær explained: “Of course the three of them [Bruno, Pogba, van de Beek] can start together.
“The again, you’ve got Scott McTominay, Fred and Nemanja Matic in midfield as well, it’s not just about three players in a squad.”
Mason Greenwood has been in the headlines lately with England, and after Daniel James apparently impressed against Villa, may not start.
Someone else who made even bigger off the pitch headlines this summer is Harry Maguire, who will retain the club captaincy.
His manager said of him: “The process will keep on going, knowing Harry, he’s a very strong character and can put that apart but as a human being it’ll be in back of mind and apart from that you have to see how it develops.”
Finally, fellow centre-back Teden Mengi has officially been promoted to the first-team and could feature on the teamsheet as Marcos Rojo and Smalling have been training separate from the senior squad.
Injuries/suspensions (estimated return)
- Axel Tuanzebe – foot (a few weeks)
(4-2-3-1) De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelöf, Maguire, Shaw; McTominay, Fred; Greenwood, Fernandes, Rashford; Martial
Quote from the boss
“We can go into the new season with confidence given how we finished last season. We developed during the season and we need to keep developing and gain more consistency.” – Ole Gunnar SolskjærEmbed from Getty Images
– Mason Greenwood vs Tyrick Mitchell
This is a potential clash for the future. Greenwood is now a senior England international, while Mitchell completed his third-ever full game last week, performing admirably. Watch this flank.
– Bruno Fernandes vs Luka Milovojević
Arguably the Premier League’s two best penalty takers, the centre of the park will likely be where most of your eyes are on Saturday. Fernandes is still in form after a good spell with Portugal and Milivojević will be keen recover his shock miss on Tuesday.
– Victor Lindelöf vs Wilfried Zaha
Despite their positions, these two aren’t the most physical players and often try too hard to operate on their terms. That means this one should be a technical battle of wits, especially if Zaha is the Eagles’ only striker from the off.
Let us know your thoughts on how it’ll go and enjoy the match!