So, the Manchester United revival under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has shuddered to an excruciating stop then, huh?
After a fine pre-season and unbeaten start to what appeared a tricky opening to the 2019/20 Premier League campaign, a thumping victory over Chelsea and decent away point at Wolves was undone by a shattering 2-1 home defeat to Crystal Palace.
United’s performance was insipid and harked back to so many from last term as they could find little cutting edge and lacked penetration against a well organised visiting defence.
Jordan Ayew struck against the run of play only for Daniel James to fire in a stunning late equaliser after Marcus Rashford had smacked a penalty off the inside of the post. But late drama was to unfold when Patrick Van Aanholt squirmed a shot under David De Gea to end a run of 20 consecutive Premier League games without a win over United for the Eagles.
And that features among our talking points from the game.
HOME OR HELL?
United have started 2019/20 brightly under Solskjaer, but one thing that must improve above maybe anything else is their home form. Or perhaps, more specifically, the aura of Old Trafford has to be re-established. It has to become a fortress once again if progress is to be made.
Slow starts in front of their home supporters have become a depressing trait of United post Sir Alex Ferguson. Proud records that had stood for years began tumbling as soon as the dust had started collecting on top-flight title number 20. They still fall now, with victory Palace’s first in the league over United since May 1991.
Old Trafford’s thinning veneer in the ensuing six seasons is a continuing cause for concern.
The Theatre of Dreams has become more of a fun family trip to the cinema for away teams, and something has got to change.
Whether it’s a combination of Old Trafford losing its lustre or identity, with the steady influx of day-tripping merchandise-hunting fans leading to a reduced amount of diehard supporters cramming inside its walls, it is no longer a place away teams and players fear.
Even Palace – shorn of one of their two best players over the summer (Aaron Wan-Bissaka signed for United, while star man Wilfried Zaha also yearns for a move away) – showed scant trepidation as they headed north, despite having not yet scored a goal this season prior to kick-off.
Wily Roy Hodgson played five in midfield and was happy to block access to the Eagles’ goal and while the hosts swooped on the visitors’ penalty box, they showed little sign of penetrating their defence.
The once cavernous Stretford End is now normally eerily silent on match days – even more so if United struggle to score early or, even worse, fall behind.
The defeat means United have now won just three of the last 15 in all competitions since the victory over Paris Saint-Germain in the second leg of their Champions League last 16 tie.
Things are steadily improving under Solskjaer. But a chief requirement remains for the Red Devils to be more ruthless at home.
PALACE KINGS OF OLD TRAFFORD
Crystal Palace shattered a long-standing and hugely unwanted record with victory – it was their first ever over United in the Premier League era. To put that in context, before Saturday the Eagles had not soared to three points in 20 previous attempts. Suffering 16 defeats and earning just four draws.
They’d shipped 40 goals over that period against the 20-time champions of England and scored just eight themselves. But they were worthy winners on Saturday. Of course they had to ride their luck throughout the 90 minutes as experienced manager Hodgson packed the midfield. The away side would have been fully aware before kick-off that they would have to withstand heavy periods of United pressure and likely set up camp on their own 18-yard box.
This they did, but they also took their opportunities too; Ayew reacting expertly to Jeffrey Schlupp’s commanding climb above Victor Lindelof and running on to his knockdown before calmly finishing past De Gea. They even kept pushing as the game opened up in the second half and United pressed for a winner following James’ sumptuous equaliser – cleverly anticipating the home side’s desire to push for a winner.
And with Zaha always a threat on the counter, they reaped the rewards when Van Aanholt crashed in the winner.
It was fitting that it came on a weekend in which records throughout England’s top flight were banished, with Jack Grealish also exorcising some ghosts involving the number 20. The Aston Villa midfielder saw his record run of 20-straight Premier League defeats come to an end, with the promoted side earning a 2-0 win over Everton on Friday.
Grealish’s unwanted run began on the day he made his senior debut as a substitute in a 4-0 defeat to Manchester City back in May 2014.
Palace’s win, meanwhile, was their first in the league over United since May 1991 – a 3-0 triumph at Selhurst Park. Ayew’s strike, meanwhile, was the Eagles’ first league goal at Old Trafford since 2004.
JAMES HAS A HIGH CEILING
Despite a rotten day for the Red Devils, it was another step forward on the career progression ladder for Welsh winger James.
James is like the Energizer Bunny, he just keeps going and going. He was the most fouled played in the Premier League coming into the weekend and he was floored constantly throughout the contest – but much to the annoyance of visiting defenders, he just kept getting back up.
Six times the 21-year-old was felled altogether – it really should have been seven but referee Paul Tierney’s terrible decision to show the youngster a second yellow card within a week for diving was surely influenced by his booking for the same offence during the 1-1 draw at Wolves on Monday.
Neither was warranted as James was clipped on both occasions. But more impressive has been James’ reaction to both cards. Rather than cower in a corner, the diminutive 5’ 7” flyer stood tall.
Two bookings in successive games for simulation – one last week at Molineux where the home crowd were in his ear with every touch – would usually be enough to see any young player retreat to the fringes of a game.
But not James. After all, on the eve of his move to United this summer, his father Kevan suddenly passed away. So he’s already overcome bigger obstacles in his 21 years than card-happy officials and baying away crowds.
Following his card against Wolves – he’d been felled unintentionally by Joao Moutinho’s trailing left boot – he rapidly chased down giant Mexican striker Raul Jimenez after losing possession. United fans winced, fearing a rash challenge from James and an imminent red card. Instead, he used his pace to track Jimenez and then used his slight frame to get in-between player and ball and make a clean tackle.
After his yellow on Saturday – despite being clearly fouled by James McArthur – James persevered and even prevailed. At the end of a sweeping move following Paul Pogba’s excellent challenge on Zaha, James provided an even more excellent finish – curling beyond a motionless Vicente Guaita to score his second goal in front of the Stretford End in as many weeks. United have a talent on their hands.
Know more about Sport360 Application