Two managers representing very different meanings of the word “embattled” take their sides into battle in this intriguing Premier League clash at Old Trafford. Jose Mourinho’s United are in eighth place, and with a fair wind could be closing on the Champions League places by December. Yes, they’re underachieving, but even if they were playing at their best week-in, week-out, they probably wouldn’t be league contenders anyway.
Roy Hodgson, for his part, is presiding over a Palace side that keeps narrowly losing despite their best efforts. With a collection of strikers in the “jigsaw” tradition – they fall to pieces in the box – the Eagles’ over-reliance on versatile attacker Wilfried Zaha to make and score goals weighs heavy on them when he isn’t at his best. If they could even get a point here, it could start a run that lifts them into the top half. If, as expected, they lose, then they move closer to a bottom three that’s already too close for comfort.
Manchester United vs Crystal Palace Prediction: Manchester United 3-1 Crystal Palace
United’s recent form has shown marked signs of improvement as compared to the disastrous start they had to the season. Wins at home to Everton, and at Bournemouth, may seem routine, but are exactly the kind of games the Red Devils were losing earlier in the campaign. The 2-1 win at Juventus was better still, showing a sense of belief that has too often been missing. Despite a setback last time out against rivals Manchester City, it’s realistic to think that Mourinho’s side will do enough here to take all three points with a little to spare, albeit probably having first made things hard for themselves.
Our recommended tip: United win and BTTS
While we couldn’t have written these words just over a month ago, United’s recent showings have earned them the right to be seen as comfortable favourites here. However, their tendency to concede cheap goals is one that doesn’t seem to be going away, and it’s easy to see the visitors piercing their rearguard at least once – particularly if Zaha gets any time on the ball. Paddy Power are offering 11/5 on United winning a game in which both sides score, and that seems like a very realistic prediction for this afternoon given the balance of both sides’ form.
Palace’s outings against United last season both ended in defeat, but the end result aside they couldn’t have been much more different. At Old Trafford, early in the season, a Palace side which had lost its first six games made it seven, going behind to a Juan Mata goal and never regaining parity as United ran away with the game by a 4-0 margin.
Then in March, at Selhurst Park, the Eagles scored through Patrick van Aanholt and Andros Townsend to lead 2-0 after 48 minutes. A visiting United side that had absolutely earned their “nil” up to that point then slowly pulled themselves back into things. Chris Smalling (55 minutes), Romelu Lukaku (75) and then Nemanja Matic, a minute into time added on, completed a comeback that was heartening for United fans and horrid for Palace.
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Players to watch: Romelu Lukaku & Andros Townsend
Few players sum up the difference between Manchester United 2018/19 and last season’s strong showing than Lukaku. The Belgian striker, with a World Cup bronze medal under his belt from the summer, has not been bad this campaign, but by this time last season he had plundered eight league goals. This time around, he has half that and was left on the bench until the middle of the second half against City. There’s no doubt he has the ability to flourish at this level. Can he show that today?
Townsend is one of those Palace players who needs to play to a high level to take some of the pressure off comfortably the club’s standout player, Zaha. It’s particularly incumbent upon him to do this, because the former Spurs man is – like the Ivoirien – a wide attacking player, and if Zaha is marked out of the game it should mean space for his teammate. Capable of taking on his man and scoring a goal or two, Townsend is well-equipped to make an impact, and Palace need him to do it here.