Crystal Palace 0-2 Manchester United: Red Devils keep pace with top-4, but Solskjaer’s paper-thin squad is waning

A narrow victory over Crystal Palace this evening highlighted once again just how heavily Manchester United are relying on a core group of players at present.

Rashford makes the difference

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men made the trip to Selhurst Park a short time ago.

The matchup came as an absolute must-win for United, on the back of the Premier League gameweek’s results thus far.

After Chelsea and Leicester City picked up all 3 points in their respective meetings with Norwich and Sheffield United, the Red Devils slipped 3 points off the top-4 pace.

The Manchester giants were of course also searching for a bounce-back result this evening, after an injury-time Michael Obafemi strike saw Southampton secure a shock share of the spoils at Old Trafford on Monday night.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – JULY 13: Michael Obafemi of Southampton FC celebrates scoring their second goal during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Southampton FC at Old Trafford on July 13, 2020 in Manchester, England. Football Stadiums around Europe remain empty due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in all fixtures being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)

And, when all was said and done in the English capital, bounce back was precisely what the visitors managed.

Unlike so many of their victories over recent weeks, however, this one was far from convincing from a Manchester United perspective.

The Reds took the lead minutes before the interval, courtesy of Marcus Rashford.

A typical moment of brilliance from Bruno Fernandes saw the Portuguese international slip Rashford in with a delicate pass into the Palace box.

And the in-form attacker made no mistake with his finish, sitting the Eagles backline down with a wonderful dummy, before slotting home beyond the helpless Vicente Guaita.

Significantly, Rashford’s strike came just moments after Crystal Palace saw a major penalty shout waved away by both referee Graham Scott and the VAR team.

And, just 10 minutes into the second-half, it was VAR to the rescue once again for the visitors.

After Wilfried Zaha squared a superb delivery across the face of goal, Jordan Ayew was on hand to slide home what looked set to be an equaliser at the back post.

The goal was initially awarded, but, following a lengthy check, it was eventually decided that Ayew had been, by a matter of millimetres, offside when the ball was played.

Palace, to their credit, continued to pile pressure on the away side’s backline, with the Londoners having looked far more likely to get back on terms than United did to double their advantage over a long stretch following the interval.

What eventually proved the difference, though, was sheer quality.

With a little over 10 minutes remaining at Selhurst Park, a lightning breakaway on the part of the visitors saw Rashford and Anthony Martial connect to devastating effect, with the latter having gone on to put the clash to bed with a neat finish into the far corner.

And, following a lengthy subsequent stoppage for Patrick van Aanholt, who picked up a concerning injury in the buildup to Martial’s strike, the matchup eventually petered out into a 2-0 full-time scoreline.

As such, the Red Devils have moved level with Leicester City in 4th-place in the Premier League table once more, as the race for Champions League football looks set to come down to the final day of action.

United waning

On an evening where Manchester United can of course be satisfied with the eventual result of their efforts, though, it is difficult to highlight too many positives when it comes to the club’s display at Selhurst Park.

This side, for the 2nd-straight outing, looked an absolute shadow of the one that so recently ripped to shreds the backlines of the likes of Sheffield United, Brighton and Bournemouth.

And, upon reflection, it is not too difficult to understand why.

The Red Devils are tired.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has relied heavily upon the same group of players for several weeks now, a core XI only disrupted tonight by an injury to Luke Shaw, and Nemanja Matic’s advancing years.

Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba, in particular, looked some way short of their brilliant best over the 90 minutes at Palace, with both midfielders having also appeared fatigued on Monday night versus Southampton.

Crystal Palace’s Ivorian striker Wilfried Zaha (L) vies with Manchester United’s Portuguese midfielder Bruno Fernandes (C) during the English Premier League football match between Crystal Palace and Manchester United at Selhurst Park in south London on July 16, 2020. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / POOL / AFP)

In many ways, though, it is difficult to blame Solskjaer and co.

The Manchester powerhouse looked unplayable when in full flow up until recently, and, as the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

What will come as a concern for the United faithful, though, is the fact that their side’s lack of rotation of late also speaks volumes regarding just how paper-thin the squad at the disposal of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer truly is.

Looking through the Reds’ bench at Selhurst Park, one would have been hard-pressed to find, outside of Fred (who has enjoyed an excellent campaign) and maybe, at a stretch, Odion Ighalo, a Premier League top-4 calibre player.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 01: Fred of Man Utd looks dejected during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Wolverhampton Wanderers at Old Trafford on February 1, 2020 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)

Manchester United now have, at most, 4 fixtures remaining in their domestic campaign.

If they can manage to squeeze every inch of production out of their core squad members over the course of these outings, they could well be on for both a Champions League berth, and FA Cup glory.

On the other hand, if the likes of Fernandes, Pogba and more burn out too soon, an ugly end to the season could well be in store at Old Trafford.

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Premier League table

# Team MP D P
1 Liverpool FC 36 48 93
2 Manchester City 36 58 75
3 Chelsea FC 36 15 63
4 Leicester City 35 29 59
5 Manchester United 35 26 59
6 Wolverhampton Wanderers 36 11 56
7 Tottenham Hotspur 36 11 55
8 Sheffield United 35 5 54
9 Arsenal FC 36 8 53
10 Burnley FC 36 -8 51
11 Everton FC 35 -11 45
12 Southampton FC 35 -13 45
13 Newcastle United 36 -18 43
14 Crystal Palace 35 -15 42
15 Brighton & Hove Albion 35 -16 36
16 West Ham United 35 -15 34
17 Watford FC 35 -21 34
18 AFC Bournemouth 36 -25 31
19 Aston Villa 35 -27 30
20 Norwich City 36 -42 21
Player Team Goals
Vardy, Jamie Leicester City 23
Aubameyang, Pierre-Emerick Arsenal FC 20
Ings, Danny Southampton FC 20
Salah, Mohamed Liverpool FC 19
Mane, Sadio Liverpool FC 17
Rashford, Marcus Manchester United 17
Jimenez, Raul Wolverhampton Wanderers 17
Martial, Anthony Manchester United 17
Sterling, Raheem Manchester City 17
Aguero, Sergio Manchester City 16
Kane, Harry Tottenham Hotspur 15
Abraham, Tammy Chelsea FC 14
Jesus, Gabriel Manchester City 13
Calvert-Lewin, Dominic Everton FC 13
Richarlison Everton FC 12
Wood, Chris Burnley FC 12
De Bruyne, Kevin Manchester City 11
Son, Heung Min Tottenham Hotspur 11
Pukki, Teemu Norwich City 11
Mahrez, Riyad Manchester City 10

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