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Defensive solidity has not been their forte this term, but a clean sheet could be within reach against an out-of-form Palace side.
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Just minutes after overseeing Manchester United’s 3-2 victory over Arsenal on Thursday, Michael Carrick announced that he was leaving the club he first joined as a player back in 2006. The first-team coach under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Carrick was handed the managerial role on a temporary basis at the start of last week.
His first game in charge brought a 2-0 victory over Villarreal which guaranteed United a place in the knockout stage of the Champions League. Carrick then oversaw a creditable 1-1 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, before watching his side come from behind to see off Arsenal last time out.
Carrick hands over the reins to Ralf Rangnick, who has now been granted his work permit and is thus free to take his place in the home dugout on Sunday. He will have been pleased with elements of his new team’s performance against Arsenal, even though the side visiting Old Trafford were once again able to score with relative ease. But despite that and other shortcomings, the recent uptick in results has bred cautious optimism in the red half of Manchester. The title is no longer possible but a top-four finish is well within United’s grasp.
Rangnick has not had long to work with the players and we are therefore unlikely to see huge stylistic changes this weekend. United have the individual quality to beat virtually anyone on their day, though, and that should be enough to see off the challenge of Crystal Palace.
Before last weekend, only Liverpool and Chelsea had lost fewer games than Palace this Premier League season. Since then, though, Patrick Vieira’s side has lost consecutive matches for the first time in the Frenchman’s tenure, going down 2-1 at home to Aston Villa and then 1-0 to Leeds United.
Vieira was disappointed with his team’s performance in the first of those encounters but had no complaints with the display at Elland Road on Tuesday. Yet in many ways, the two showings were similar. Palace was broadly solid at the back, particularly in open play (defending set-pieces remains a major problem). But at the other end of the field, they struggled to create meaningful chances.
Vieira has done an excellent job of getting his ideas across quickly. Palace played a very different style under his predecessor Roy Hodgson, but the former Arsenal captain has succeeded in implementing a new approach before the midway point of his first season at the helm. There is still room for improvement, though, not least in the final third.
Perhaps a match at Old Trafford will aid Palace’s attacking efforts. They have generally performed well against the big teams this season, and have taken seven points from a possible nine from their last three games at Manchester United’s home ground. Palace will be afforded more space than they were against Leeds and, in particular Villa, but they will need to show more guile and precision to take advantage. The return to the XI of Ebere Eze would help in that regard, although the attacking midfielder might not be fit enough to start yet.
Carrick did a good job of steadying the ship ahead of Rangnick’s arrival, and the hope is that the German will now be able to lead United higher up the table. There are still question marks over his appointment, not least regarding the suitability of the squad to his preference for a high-tempo, energetic and heavy pressing approach, but United should certainly be a more convincing proposition than they were in the final days of Solskjaer’s tenure.
The upcoming fixture list looks kind. After this clash with Palace, United take on Norwich City, Brentford, Brighton and Hove Albion, Newcastle United and Burnley. There is no reason why the Red Devils should not be targeting 15 points from those games. By the time they next play a fellow big-six side on March 5, the picture could look a great deal more positive.
First things first, United must get the job done against Palace. The Eagles won at the Etihad Stadium a little over a month ago, and they caused Liverpool problems in a 3-0 defeat which flattered the Reds back in September. Vieira’s side were disappointing against Villa and Leeds, but they are more than capable of giving United a game here.
Even so, it is hard to look past a home win – and, given Palace’s recent struggles in the final third, perhaps even a first clean sheet at Old Trafford this season.
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|Manchester United vs Crystal Palace Information
|Manchester United vs Crystal Palace
|Old Trafford, Manchester, England
|Sunday, 5 December 2021, 09.00 AM EST
|How to watch
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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