A 12th victory under his stewardship would be the perfect birthday present for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as he takes Manchester United to Selhurst Park to face Crystal Palace on Wednesday.
United possess a fabulous record over the hosts – having not lost to the Eagles in the Premier League era – but they head to south London with a raft of injuries to contend with following Sunday’s 0-0 draw with Liverpool.
Solskjaer will still be hoping to celebrate blowing out the candles on his birthday cake with his side blowing away Palace though and, ahead of a game that always tends to produce goals, we pick out a few talking points.
ADDING INSULT TO INJURY
It will be hard to ground United fans’ enthusiasm with the impressive run they’re on under Solskjaer, although a mounting injury crisis sees them head to Selhurst Park with a number of issues.
Solskjaer currently has 10 players on the treatment table following a bizarre 45 minutes against Liverpool that saw the boss forced into making all three of his substitutions before half-time.
The Norwegian has copped criticism for rushing Jesse Lingard back into the fold after he initially was forced off in the 2-0 loss to Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League round of 16 first-leg clash. The 26-year-old England international was brought on against the Reds, replacing Juan Mata only to then be brought off himself 18 minutes later after suffering a recurrence of his hamstring injury.
United were also hamstrung by further thigh muscle injuries to Mata and Ander Herrera during a game in which Marcus Rashford was also forced to stay on even though he was repeatedly fouled, suffering a swollen ankle early on.
Bar the PSG blip, it’s 13 games unbeaten for a resurgent Red Devils under Solskjaer but even though they’ll head to London full of confidence with two seemingly straightforward fixtures coming up against Palace and then Southampton, Wednesday presents the manager with a real test of his managerial prowess.
With Rashford likely to be left out even if he does recover from the ankle knock, Nemanja Matic is ruled out with an unspecified muscle injury and Solskjaer confirming in his pre-match press conference that Anthony Martial won’t be risked as he fights his way back to fitness. He will need to select his starting XI carefully and get the best out of some fringe players, as well as possibly blood some academy starlets.
EAGLES ARE FLYING HIGH
The hosts have hit form of late and are currently embarking on their best run during what has otherwise been a frustrating season.
Roy Hodgson is a quality coach and Palace’s squad boasts some exceptional talent, so it’s fair to say they’ve underperformed in 2018/19 so far.
But, it finally seems to be clicking for the Selhurst Park outfit, who are unbeaten in six games, winning four of them. They’ve only lost three times in their last 14 matches in all competitions and will come into Wednesday’s encounter brimming with confidence following the 4-1 thrashing of Leicester on Saturday, a result that finally saw the axe brought down on Claude Puel.
Wilfried Zaha is firing with four goals in his last five games, while Michy Batshuayi got his first in red and blue in the Foxes thrashing. Luka Milivojevic, Andros Townsend and James McArthur have all been in or creating the goals, so they will be fired up for the visit of a team that although is in the midst of their own fine run, will be forced into a rejig due to their treatment room piling up with bodies.
Only Cardiff, Fulham and Huddersfield have lost more games than Palace this season (13), though there are six other sides who have lost the same amount. Their record sees them sitting in 13th place.
They will rightly see themselves as a top-10 side and are finally showing the form of one. Hodgson will hope his side’s recent resurgence can get the Eagles flying up the table.
A HAPPY HUNTING GROUND
Palace are on a good run and will be licking their lips at the prospect of facing an injury-hit United – but the taste will be smacked right out of their mouths when they feast on their recent Red Devils’ record.
This fixture has not traditionally been one in which the Eagles soar. United have a formidable record against most opponents but their performances against Palace down the years have been particularly impressive.
Should Solskjaer’s men avoid defeat, it will be a 20th straight game unbeaten in the Premier League against Palace, during which time they’ve won 15.
In fact, United have suffered just one defeat to the Eagles in their last 26 games in all competitions, and that came as a heavily changed side lost 2-1 in the League Cup fifth round in 2011.
Ian Wright’s third-minute goal and a John Salako brace helped Palace to their last league win over United – a 3-0 triumph in the old First Division on May 11, 1991.
Recent history has been particularly harsh on Wednesday’s hosts, especially at Selhurst Park. The Eagles have been desperately close to ending their hoodoo but have suffered late heartbreak in three of their last four home league games against United.
Marouane Fellaini, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Matic have scored 78th, 88th and 90th minute winners respectively for United in Croydon in recent years – not to mention Lingard’s 110th minute goal to clinch the FA Cup for United in 2016.
How heavily will history weigh on Palace this week?
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