Manchester United held to disappointing, dull draw by Crystal Palace

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Sam Dean
·20 min read
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Crystal Palace vs Manchester United - AFP
Crystal Palace vs Manchester United - AFP
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Just as Manchester United’s players could barely see each other through the thick Croydon fog, they can now barely see a distant Manchester City in the title race. If Pep Guardiola’s side were not already over the hill and out of reach, they surely are now after United lost further ground with this flat and dispiriting stalemate.

Three consecutive goalless draws tell their own story for United, who started poorly and gradually became worse as this match drifted to a forgettable conclusion. Their unbeaten run away from home in the league remains intact, yet all these draws count for little when it comes to these decisive weeks of a title challenge — if we can still call it that.

This was the fourth time in five league matches that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side have claimed just a single point, and their lack of invention in attack here felt just as troubling as the gap that has opened up to City. Where was the sense of adventure? Where was the ambition? And where was the usual influence of Bruno Fernandes?

“It has been a week with no goals,” said Solskjaer. “It is a bit of a worry, of course it is. But I know the boys are giving everything. The attitude and the approach, I am very happy with. The quality we need to get back.”

When they are in this sort of mood, Crystal Palace are among the most frustrating and uncomfortable of Premier League opponents. Roy Hodgson’s side are lacking an attacking spark of their own, without Wilfried Zaha, but their defensive resilience is impossible to question.

Wherever United turned, they were met by a red-and-blue wall. Gary Cahill and Cheikhou Kouyate were dominant against Edinson Cavani and Marcus Rashford, while Fernandes was rendered irrelevant by the scurrying presence of Luka Milivojevic in the home midfield.

Palace could even have won it right at the end, when Patrick van Aanholt charged through on goal. He was denied by a point-saving stop from young Dean Henderson, selected in goal by Solskjaer because David de Gea was absent due to personal reasons.

Long before the end, United’s players were bickering with each other. The angst could be seen on the face of Harry Maguire, complaining about Rashford’s positioning, and on Rashford’s face when he hit back. It was that sort of night, with Palace digging their fingers into United’s pressure points and posing plenty of attacking questions of their own.

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The gap between second-placed United and first-placed City now stands at 14 points ahead of Sunday’s derby. It certainly feels insurmountable, especially for a United side that looked so unlikely to even create a meaningful chance here. “We did not build enough pressure,” said Solskjaer, who suggested he will not allow Fernandes to go on international duty in the coming weeks because of quarantine restrictions.

A third game unbeaten for Palace was another sign of how the players are still fighting for Hodgson, no matter how unhappy some of the club’s supporters may be with the club’s long-term direction of travel.

“The way the players went about the job was very commendable,” said Hodgson. “We had to work very hard. I am very proud. It is only a point but the fact is that it is a point that takes us one step closer to that magical 40 mark. If we can do that against Manchester United, we should be able to do that against other teams. Three points would have been nice but there are those occasions where one is almost like three.”

Palace showed far more ambition and attacking intent than they had in recent games against Brighton and Fulham, having more shots here than they had managed in those two previous matches combined. If Jordan Ayew and Christian Benteke had been more accurate with their finishing, they could feasibly have scored two or three goals.

For United, the best spell came midway through the first half when Rashford, Cavani and Greenwood all came within a few inches of scoring the opener. In those moments it looked like the visitors would ultimately find a way through, but rather than growing in confidence they shrunk as the fog thickened.

“You have to earn the right, you have to win tackles, you have to fight and you have to play passes better,” said Solskjaer. “We kept giving the ball away. The tempo was missing, once in a while it happens. It wasn't one of our best nights, that's for sure.”

As the match progressed, United grew increasingly frustrated with their own lack of threat in attack. The chances became half-chances, and even they fizzled out eventually. It was not good enough for a side of their attacking quality, and this point was not enough for a team of their ambitions.

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10:05 PM


Sam Dean has summed this one up well:

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10:04 PM


Garbage. Kouyate is deservedly given man of the match by Gary Neville for his performance as centre-back and the award had to go to a Palace player. United need to have the entire squad sent to the gulag for this performance.

10:03 PM

90 mins+2 - Crystal Palace 0 Man Utd 0

"Sleep walking" is how Gary Neville has just described United's performance. Sure, Palace have defended well, and yes, the fog means you can't really see anything, but... come on. Anyway, it looks like United might have one last chance. McTominay goes on a run.

10:01 PM

90 mins - Crystal Palace 0 Man Utd 0

This game:

10:01 PM

88 mins - Crystal Palace 0 Man Utd 0

Shaw hits a shot from distance wide of the goal. If he'd used his left foot rather than right he might have been closer.

09:55 PM

85 mins - Crystal Palace 0 Man Utd 0

To make things even worse, you basically can't even what's happening in the middle of the pitch because the fog appears so thick on the TV. Imagine the opposite of a Carlsberg football match.

09:53 PM

82 mins - Crystal Palace 0 Man Utd 0

I've received several text messages from friends tonight telling me that they had to turn this game off because it's that bad.

It's starting to brighten up a little. Greenwood hits a powerful shot towards the top corner but leans back a little while striking it, lifting the ball over the bar.

09:50 PM

79 mins - Crystal Palace 0 Man Utd 0

Cavani off, James on. It hasn't happened for the striker. James will add a lot of pace and help stretch things but needs to quickly improve his decision making and quality of pass/cross/shot.

United are instantly better with James on. He rushes to press on the right wing, combines with McTominay to open up the right side, and then a cross into the box is missed by James on the penalty spot. He should at least get a shot away there.


09:47 PM

77 mins - Crystal Palace 0 Man Utd 0

McTominay instantly does what United have needed all game. He moves between the Palace lines to receive, running ahead of the ball rather than towards it, and gets a pass pinged into him. The defenders close it down quickly but finally we've seen a bit of attacking intent. You have to get between the lines against Palace in a 4-4-2 - there's absolutely point sitting in a flat formation passing it around.

09:46 PM

75 mins - Crystal Palace 0 Man Utd 0

Palace keep winning the second ball, forcing it forwards and trying to make United clear... and all of a sudden Greenwood has a chance to break! He dances past two tackles, cuts inside, passes, then Rashford plays in Shaw... but nothing comes of it.

Fred is replaced by McTominay which should give United some dynamism in midfield.

09:44 PM

73 mins - Crystal Palace 0 Man Utd 0

The off the ball movement from United in this match is atrocious and when you add that to their inability to control or pass the ball when they do actually have it, what you get is a bad football cake. Nobody should ever eat this. Put this in the bin.

09:41 PM

70 mins - Crystal Palace 0 Man Utd 0

I'm not entirely sure United need both Matic and Fred on. Get Van De Beek on to set the tempo, make him pass the ball forwards. They need to change something, this is dreadful. Even Fernandes can't control the ball. But yes, why do you need two holding midfield players against a team who have no intent of attacking unless it's from a set piece?

09:38 PM

68 mins - Crystal Palace 0 Man Utd 0

Every pass is short, players off the ball are static, there's so little desire to win tackles and correct mistakes. Sorry if I'm going on a bit but this is awful.

09:36 PM

66 mins - Crystal Palace 0 Man Utd 0

UNITED ARE SO SLOW TO GET THE BALL FORWARD. They need to tap tap tap it with some tempo, at pace, with some idea of what they're trying to. It's been dreadful. So poor in possession - Palace have had way more of the ball in the last 10 minutes. Is this strategic from the management? Draw Palace out so there's an actual chance to open them them up?

09:35 PM

63 mins - Crystal Palace 0 Man Utd 0

Man of the match so far has to go to the camera person for this match, who is having to constantly adjust the settings to cater for a thick layer of fog and the colours being washed out and dark in certain parts of the pitch, and then blown out and overly bright in others. Exposure might be the word I'm looking for here.

James McCarthy, and this should come as no surprise to anyone, has to come off the pitch injured. That's been a recurring feature for the poor guy throughout his career. Riedewald comes on.

09:31 PM

60 mins - Crystal Palace 0 Man Utd 0

The free-kick hits the wall but Henderson is rooted to the spot like a Subbuteo man as Townsend volleys through bodies on the edge of the box. Just wide.

09:30 PM

59 mins - Crystal Palace 0 Man Utd 0

Is the fog having an effect?

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Is that why the game is so bad? Eze is at least a bit of joy to watch. He's so quick to accelerate over about five yards, zipping past tackles with excellent close control and causing problems when he gets the chance to dribble. Fred has just brought him down on the edge of the area.

09:27 PM

57 mins - Crystal Palace 0 Man Utd 0

I don't understand the United press. Fernandes and Cavani are trying hard to set the standard and rush towards Palace players but the rest of the team are happy wandering about miles back. There's no urgency.

09:26 PM

54 mins - Crystal Palace 0 Man Utd 0

A goal would completely change this game. If Palace score then United will have to actually start trying - it's sooooo slow - but if United score, Palace might open up. Please make the game more entertaining. Please.

09:24 PM

51 mins - Crystal Palace 0 Man Utd 0

Henderson catches a powerful strike by Ayew as Palace manage to put another attack together. Still not an awful lot happening here, this game - like all games - could really do with some fans to put a bit of life into it. The tempo needs to be higher, the intent, the aggression, the quality... it's very vanilla. I get the impression a 0-0 for Palace would be a dream result for Hodgson, which makes sense, but if they are able to score via a penalty or some mistake, there's no way they're conceding.

09:20 PM

49 mins - Crystal Palace 0 Man Utd 0

Rashford tries to put a bit of urgency and intent into the game by dribbling at pace on the wing and whaddya know he's won a corner for it. It's almost as if by trying to attack and taking defenders on, Man Utd create better chances to score.

Except not this time, because the corner is not good.

The fog seems to have gotten worse during the break too. It looks like they've been cooking sausages on the pitch without opening the windows.

09:18 PM

46 mins - Crystal Palace 0 Man Utd 0

Milivojevic has started the second half badly, with the ball volleyed off his nose within seconds of the restart.

09:17 PM


We're back. No changes.

09:14 PM

A horrible omen

Really hoping this Opta stat doesn't haunt us:

  • The last three Manchester United league matches to be goalless at HT have ended 0-0.

I need goals. I need them!

09:02 PM


That started off OK, Man Utd eventually took control about 15 minutes in... and then it just melted. It's like a chocolate bar you forgot was in your pocket. You can still eat it but it's nowhere near as good as it should have been. All sludgy. Needs to be cool and crisp.

09:01 PM



08:59 PM

44 mins - Crystal Palace 0 Man Utd 0

I bet OGS is getting ready to scream at his players at half time. The forwards are offering so little, standing around, not making darting runs to drag players out of position, just waiting for a cross that will be headed away by one of the massive defenders in their way.

08:57 PM

41 mins - Crystal Palace 0 Man Utd 0

Wan-Bissaka remembers he has some old supporters to impress and takes on Eze on the outside, going round him aggressively and keeping his balance under pressure. The corner isn't great, Palace surround the ball and then slow everything down.

08:54 PM

38 mins - Crystal Palace 0 Man Utd 0

Palace win a free-kick in centre circle, set up to knock it long into the box... and are offside. That whole thing has taken about two minutes [audible groan IRL].

08:51 PM

35 mins - Crystal Palace 0 Man Utd 0

I can see why Palace fans aren't delighted with how their team plays. Eze's good fun though, I really like him. Needs to do more off the ball, making runs into space to receive rather than just stand wide. It's all a little static actually.

08:47 PM

32 mins - Crystal Palace 0 Man Utd 0

Greenwood can't quite get in the game. He's made a couple of really poor touches that have gifted possession to Palace in the middle of the pitch, which is not a great thing to do. United have to work really hard to get behind the ball and block, especially when Eze starts to run with it.

08:44 PM

29 mins - Crystal Palace 0 Man Utd 0

Rashford has moved out to the right wing, swapping with Greenwood on the left. Fred has just tried to clear the ball by leaping with a karate kick and honestly he's lucky not to have really hurt Benteke there. I remember Nani being sent off in the Champions League once for doing something not entirely dissimilar.

08:42 PM

26 mins - Crystal Palace 0 Man Utd 0

More of the same. Palace don't really have players in midfield who can help them work the ball around so they're relying on playing down the wings and getting the ball into the strikers.

08:39 PM

23 mins - Crystal Palace 0 Man Utd 0

United in control of the game now, passing and moving around the pitch as Palace just try and stop them. I think this could be the pattern for the rest of the match.

08:34 PM

20 mins - Crystal Palace 0 Man Utd 0

Great play by United. They push passes through the lines, with one touch taken by players to move the ball on. Cavani controls a powerful, bobbling pass from Bailly superbly... but Rashford seems to tackle himself while trying to dribble into the box. Then Fred tries to shoot from 25 yards and you already know how that ended.

08:32 PM

17 mins - Crystal Palace 0 Man Utd 0

Rashford shoots wide from inside the area as United look to have found their rhythm. It's a great bit of control to take the cross down but by trying to tuck his shot into the corner he ends up dragging it slighly off target.

Shaw is getting high up the pitch now and it's making a big difference to how United attack.

08:29 PM

14 mins - Crystal Palace 0 Man Utd 0

What a ball by Greenwood. He absolutely drills one into the box from wide right and any touch on it inside the six yard area would have been a goal. Where was Cavani?

The ball bounces out to Matic on the edge of the box, he fancies a dig, it gets a deflection... it's going in! SAVED! Great save by the goalie.

Corner. Which is poked over the bar by Cavani from close range. Better from Man Utd the last five minutes.

08:26 PM

11 mins - Crystal Palace 0 Man Utd 0

Matic loves dropping deep to receive the ball so that Shaw can get up the pitch but Shaw isn't getting up the pitch as far as he needs to in order to justify it, so United are just trapped in their own half at the moment, with Palace in control out of possession.

08:22 PM

8 mins - Crystal Palace 0 Man Utd 0

Shaw hobbles away from an aggressive slide tackle by Ward. Palace win a free-kick out wide soon after and Townsend tries to sneak the ball in the far corner, disguising a shot as a cross. Henderson is wise to it and catches,

Then Benteke launches a volley miles over the bar.

08:21 PM

5 mins - Crystal Palace 0 Man Utd 0

Palace clearly in a 4-4-2 / 4-4-1-1 with two sixes in midfield, United are a 4-3-3 / 4-2-3-1 with Matic staying the deepest of the midfield and Fred somewhere between him and Fernandes.

08:18 PM

2 mins - Crystal Palace 0 Man Utd 0

Maguire is a good footballer. This is something I have just noted by the way the he adjusts his body automatically to control a drilled pass on the outside of his boot and then just turns to put a pass inside, all as though it was of no difficulty. If this were one of my beloved Aberdeen centre-backs, the opposition would have a throw-in by now.

08:16 PM


Here we go. Man Utd start the game in their funky zebra costumes.

08:02 PM

De Gea misses out for 'personal reasons'

The goalkeeper isn't even in the squad tonight and OGS says that's for personal reasons. Hope everything's OK with the lad. Dean Henderson has a chance instead but this means he hasn't exactly earned it with phenomenal performances in training or anything like that.

08:01 PM

How the table looks

Leicester only managed to draw with Burnley this evening, which gives Man Utd the chance to gain a bit of distance.

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07:47 PM

Transfers transfers transfers

Everyone loves a transfer but even more people love gossiping about transfers. Today, Man Utd have - again - been linked with a move for Raphael Varane, the World Cup winning Real Madrid centre-back.

07:35 PM

Greenwood vs Martial

I think there's more to Greenwood starting ahead of Martial than OGS rotating his squad. Martial hasn't really produced much in his last few games and while that may be because he's in need of a rest, Greenwood is 100 per cent the future, while I can't imagine which clubs would actually want to sign Martial were he available, which I suspect he probably is. Has one good game every 10... which just isn't enough.

07:16 PM

Starting lineups

This is what the teams look like this evening:

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07:02 PM

Crystal Palace vs Man Utd

Hello there! Welcome to our liveblog for tonight's Big Match. Palace fans don't really enjoy watching their team just now, which is hardly a surprise considering the players in their squad and the way the manager likes to keep them competing mid-table in the Premier League. Defence is the name of the game, hard to break down, squash the space, hit on the counter-attack.

Roy Hodgson does actually want to attack but needs his players to help him do it, and in particular Eberechi Eze. He had this to say of him this week:

"He started so well but now he is in the situation where it is no longer a case of everyone being delighted with every touch of the ball, we are expecting a lot from him.

"The great thing is that he is so much aware of that, he is really aware of what is required and really anxious to learn.

“In the last couple of games we played him as an advanced midfielder, a No10 if you like, and it was very difficult for him to get into the game as we would have liked. I don’t even blame him for that.

"At the moment if we were going to use him in that position we’re going to need to do a lot more work on him in that position and we’re going to have to do better ourselves as a team in general, in terms of keeping the ball and getting enough of the ball to find him in those areas.

“I am still very, very happy with him. I still think he is one of the players that is going to help us get back to that attacking threat that we have always had but perhaps lost in the last three or four games.

"I've seen us play very well on the ball through the midfield area on many occasions through my time here and I think you sometimes go through a period where something doesn't quite gel for you."

Tonight's match kicks off at 8:15pm, stay with us for live updates throughout.