Football Features

‘This is a man to be feared’ – Winners and losers as Crystal Palace stun Man Utd

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 19:56, 19 September 2020 | Updated: 9:48, 30 March 2021

In a stunning evening of football, Crystal Palace beat Manchester United 1-3 at Old Trafford.

Palace took the lead and never looked like relinquishing it the whole game long. Who were the winners and losers?

Winner: Wilfried Zaha

On his return to old club Manchester United, wearing the armband of Crystal Palace, Wilfried Zaha had a point to prove. After spending a summer trying to leave Palace only to be thwarted, he had to make the most of things.

With a new position in attack, he led Palace’s counter-attack all night. United’s defenders simply couldn’t keep up with his movement, pace and skill. Every time Harry Maguire or Victor Lindelof went anywhere near him they looked like Bambi on ice.

In the end the only thing missing from Zaha’s performance was a goal or assist, with Palace’s opener having nothing to do with him. In he second-half he delivered just that, first stepping up convert a penalty that (at the time) gave Palace a two-goal lead. Then after United pegged them back, Zaha stepped up again to absolutely humiliate the United defence and then lash a thunderous strike into the back of the net.

It’s hard to tell if this was a “come and get me, elite sides!” plea, or just a man showing that he can still lift Crystal Palace up. Whichever one, Wilfried Zaha made a statement today. This is a man who deserves attention, who deserves respect. This is a man to be feared.

Loser: Victor Lindelof

Losing 1-3 at home to Crystal Palace, you’d be surprised that it’s actually quite easy to pick out a worst Manchester United player. Obviously they were pretty much all bad, so this selection shouldn’t be taken as an endorsement of anything except for Donny van der Beek who came on, showed some spark and scored a goal.

Victor Lindelof, however, was an absolute disaster. Already the weak link that cost United their shot at Europa League glory, Lindelof came into this game without Aaron Wan-Bissaka shielding him from the brutalities of Palace’s wingers and it really, really showed.

The Swede was just utterly abysmal. His inept attempt to challenge Jeffrey Schlupp and block the German’s cross led directly to Andros’ Townsend’s first goal. His wayward hand was struck by a ball and conceded a penalty that Palace scored. And finally he got absolutely boyed off by Wilfried Zaha in the build-up to Palace’s third goal. The way the winger just held Lindelof off like a parent would an errant child having a trantrum was absolutely embarrassing for a man who once partnered Andreas Granqvist in the Swedish national team.

Manchester United better sign a centre-back or pray that Eric Bailly, Axel Tuanzebe or Teden Mengi can stay fit for the whole season because they will not win anything with the supine Swede at the heart of the defence. Victor Lindelof is as solid and robust as a plastic bag full of wet rice. A fishing rod has more muscle definition.

Winner: Roy Hodgson

As much as Manchester United were horrible, one man’s gameplan did help to expose them and that was Roy Hodgson. The oldest manager in the Premier League is proving that he still has plenty of life left in him yet by sending his side out in a phenomenally organised display.

Palace’s defence was rigid, their midfield the same ahead of them. There was precious-little space between the lines for United to exploit and whenever it appeared, Palace converged to close it down.

But they didn’t just park the bus, they exploded forward with intensity and purpose. This new 4-4-2 system which puts Zaha at the head of the attack with Jordan Ayew makes Palace so much more dynamic and mobile, making up for the flaw of having no quality striker.

Roy Hodgson is the first ever Crystal Palace manager to lead them to two consecutive wins at the start of a Premier League win. A phenomenal achievement and, judging by the nature of these two wins, expect Palace to trouble many big sides this season.

Loser: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer began the game sat on the bench. He remained sitting there passively staring into the middle distance like he’s trying to win Best Supporting Actor in an indie film directed by Noah Baumbach.

The Norwegian has never been a great coach but he has at the very least been an active participant who “got it” so much that he could create a good team-spirit if nothing else. As they say on social media: no tactics, just vibes. Except today there wasn’t even vibes, there was an entire absence of mood and rhythm in the way United played.

The starting XI containing Dan James (against a side always likely to sit deep? Why?) was a worrying sign, but the fact that he took so long to adjust to what was palpably a pitiful performance from his boys was absurd. Donny van de Beek came on, added thrust and scored – so why did he not start? Why was Mason Greenwood held back? Why did United play with such a lifeless, limp direction?

Ole’s at the wheel, someone wake him up before he drives into a ditch.

Winner: Borussia Dortmund, FC Porto, etc.

The most emphatic winners from Crystal Palace’s big win at Old Trafford are Borussia Dortmund, FC Porto and anyone who has a centre-back for sale. United will need to head into the transfer market to sooth fans and shareholders ire after this debacle.

As constructed, this United side will not make the Champions League again. Not against an improving Arsenal and Spurs. Nope. Won’t happen. They need Jadon Sancho, they need Alex Telles (or equivalent) and goodness gracious they need a centre-back.

Whatever fees those clubs wanted can now be expected to be paid in full, United are just that desperate.

Loser: Ed Woodward

Whatever flaws Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may have, the buck ultimately stops with Ed Woodward. United finished last season on an incredible hot-streak but it was clear that they were still in desperate need of a few key reinforcements. Namely right-wing, centre-back, centre-midfield and left-back. As of the game against Palace they had only signed a central midfielder, and he didn’t even start.

Jadon Sancho was there to be had a month ago, but Woodward haggled over price. United rightly balked at including a buyback clause for Sergio Reguilon, but that deal came together in the past week – why were they waiting until now before signing someone in that position?

As for centre-back, no concrete links and nothing notable since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said to Nathan Aké “we need a left-footed defender so keep going.” That is shocking mismanagement of a football club even by the already low, low standards of Ed Woodward.

Whatever happens in the last two weeks of the transfer window, Manchester United need to appoint a proper director of football and scouting department in order to compete, otherwise they risk wandering in the wilderness for years.