Premier League action returns after a brief break from domestic cup football, as we turn out attention towards Gameweek 22 of the 2022/23 Premier League season. Manchester United play host to Crystal Palace on Saturday.
Man United have been on a roll ever since club football restarted after the World Cup break. They have a stronger identity and have been able to dominate the opposition with the ball. Manager Erik ten Hag has turned around a ship that seemed to be sinking at the end of last season and has breathed new life into the Red Devils. They have played 12 games in all competitions since football restarted, winning 10 and losing only one.
They were last in action at home in the Carabao Cup semifinal second leg against Nottingham Forest, as they cruised home to a comfortable 2-0 win on the night and a 5-0 win on aggregate. That win meant the Red Devils have won 12 consecutive home games. That win has set up a date with Newcastle United at Wembley in the Carabao Cup final, with Man United set to make the trip to the iconic stadium for the first time since 2017. It presents a real opportunity for the Mancunians to win a first trophy since 2017, back when Jose Mourinho was in charge. It is a clear sign of progression under ten Hag and the fans are jubilant at the prospect of breaking their trophy drought.
Crystal Palace had a tough start to the season, with games against Arsenal, Liverpool, Newcastle United, Manchester City and Chelsea all coming within the first few weeks. Form and results picked up slightly soon after, as they hit an easier run of games, but the Eagles have not been able to go on a consistent run of good results this season. Manager Patrick Vieira has instilled a strong sense of belief within the squad and has assembled a team that is a perfect blend of youth and experience.
Palace have put in good performances over the past few weeks, although results have not always been in their favor. The London club currently sit in 12th place, just five points off 10th placed Chelsea. A finish in the top half of the table will be the aim for Vieira’s men come the end of the season and a consistent run of positive results should help them get over the line. Crystal Palace have had some extra rest, featuring neither in the FA Cup action over the weekend nor in the Carabao Cup semi-finals in midweek, thanks to being eliminated early from both.
These two clubs met very recently in the league at Selhurst Park as they played out their postponed GW7 fixture. Manchester United took the lead in the first-half after a sublime team move, but Crystal Palace did not let the game slip and equalized in the very last minute from a brilliant Michael Olise freekick to deny the Mancunians three points. Palace will look to provide a similar resistance at Old Trafford on Saturday.
WHEN & WHERE?
Date: Saturday, 4th February 2023.
Time: 3.00 pm BST.
Venue: Old Trafford, Manchester.
Manchester United will be without the influential Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen who has been an integral part of the Red Devils’ first 11 so far this season. He was on the receiving end of a horrid tackle from Andy Carroll of Reading in their FA Cup tie, which led to an ankle injury and will cause Eriksen to be out of action till early May. January Deadline Day signing Marcel Sabitzer was loaned in from Bayern Munich to provide cover for the hole left by Eriksen’s injury and he will be expected to make his debut in the game. Diogo Dalot missed out on the midweek Carabao Cup semifinal against Nottingham Forest, with the fullback nursing a hamstring injury, and is a doubt ahead of Saturday’s tie. Loanee Jack Butland will be ineligible to feature against his parent club.
There was some good news for Erik ten Hag and United fans however, as Jadon Sancho made his long-awaited return to footballing action against Forest, after fitness-related issues had kept him out from mid-October. Anthony Martial also returned to action for the first time since being subbed off with an injury at halftime in the Manchester Derby and made an immediate impact, scoring the first goal against Forest.
For Crystal Palace, talisman and star player Wilfried Zaha will miss out on a return to his former club, after suffering a hamstring injury in their draw against Newcastle United. The winger limped out of the draw at Selhurst Park and scans have shown a hamstring tear which is expected to keep him out for about six weeks. Defender Joachim Andersen is also expected to be ruled out after he suffered a calf injury against Chelsea two weeks ago. The Denmark international is said to be close to a return but the game against United will come too soon for him.
Palace have done some decent January business as they have looked to add more depth to the squad. Vieira has signed Arsenal midfielder Albert Sambi Lokonga on loan till the end of the season, along with central midfielder Naouirou Ahamada from VFB Stuttgart for €12 million. Both will be available for the game at Old Trafford, but it remains to see if the manager feels both are ready to start.
If somebody would have told Manchester United fans at the end of last season, or at the start of the 2022/23 season, that they would be where they are right now, playing the way they are, it would have been very hard to believe. The Red Devils look like they have finally turned a corner, playing with the swagger that is expected of them on the pitch and making smart choices off the field with transfers. It would have been very hard to predict them still being in the race for four trophies at the end of January, but here we are now, and the Old Trafford faithful are rightly excited for the future.
But turning our attention back to the present, the Red Devils face a Crystal Palace team that have of late given them some trouble. United have found it hard to overcome the Eagles, with the Londoners always putting up a tough resistance whenever the two face. It was a similar case about two weeks ago when they faced them. United thought they had done enough, going into the last minute of the game with a slender lead, having tried all night to break down the tough Palace defense which was showing no signs of relenting. Up stepped Michael Olise in the last minute to take one of the most sublime freekicks to deny the visitors three points. Palace, in that game, defended with a low block and kept hitting United on the counter thanks to the pace of Wilf Zaha and Eberechi Eze. Patrick Vieira will have something similar in mind on Saturday, especially now that they will be without their main man Zaha. A defensive showing is expected from the Londoners and Erik ten Hag will be anticipating the same.
However, this time around Palace will not have the raucous Selhurst Park crowd to edge them on. Instead, they will step onto the Old Trafford pitch which has been turned into a fortress by ten Hag since his arrival. The Red Devils have 14 wins and just two losses in 17 games at home in all competitions and have proven to be very hard to beat at home. The vocal Stretford End has proven intimidating even to teams like Arsenal and Man City, and it will be a tough ask for the Palace team to provide any attacking threat to the game, given their scoring problems.
Palace have simply not created enough chances and that combined with their poor away record gives the home side an advantage. United have kept 16 clean sheets in 33 matches in all competitions this season, with no Premier League side keeping more, which is testament to how strong their defense is at the moment. At home, United are harder to break down, and Palace will have their work cut out for them on Saturday afternoon.
The Portuguese midfielder has been in splendid form coming into this game, scoring 2 goals and assisting 3 in his last 5 league games. The 29-year-old midfielder has shared creative duties with Christian Eriksen since his arrival in the summer, which has lessened the burden on Fernandes’ shoulder. The Portugal international has had help from Casemiro at times as well, which has been in stark contrast to the previous three seasons, where Fernandes has had to do most of the work himself. He has been an ever-present personality in the team and has rarely missed a game for the Red Devils. He scored against Palace in the last game at Selhurst Park a couple of week ago and was the most threatening United player on the pitch, with Marcus Rashford having an off-night.
With Eriksen unavailable, Fernandes will have an increase in work-load, and it remains to see how United cope with it. However, the Portuguese international has proved to be a thorn in the side of opposition defenders time and again and he will look to hurt the Eagles again on Saturday.
Manchester United predicted XI vs Crystal Palace: David de Gea; Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Raphael Varane, Lisandro Martinez, Luke Shaw; Casemiro, Fred; Antony, Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford; Anthony Martial.
Crystal Palace predicted XI vs Manchester United: Vincente Guaita; Nathaniel Clyne, Chris Richards, Marc Guehi, Tyrick Mitchell; Jeffery Schlupp, Cheick Doucoure; Michael Olise, Eberechi Eze, Jordan Ayew; Odsonne Edouard.