Crystal Palace play host to Manchester United on Saturday at Selhurst Park with essential momentum heading into the stretch run on the line for both sides. The Eagles will be looking to avenge a 2-0 defeat at Old Trafford in September, though the perspective of each club has since shifted in the intervening five months.
With Tony Pulis at the helm, Palace have clawed their way out of the drop zone and head into the weekend two points clear of the bottom three in 15th place. Meanwhile, United’s hopes of at least securing Champions League football continue to dwindle with just a third of the season remaining, sitting 11 points adrift of fourth place ahead of their trip to south London.
Palace have a shockingly clean slate in terms of fitness, having not a single injury concern for the coming match – a luxury Pulis certainly won’t take for granted in the fight against relegation. The manager has indicated that Glenn Murray, who played a key role in last season’s promotion campaign, is ready to be a factor down the stretch with a long-term knee injury at last behind him.
Phil Jones, Jonny Evans, Rafael and Nani were all left out of the Red Devils training trip to Dubai but face varying situations. Jones and Rafael have each been recovering from concussions but could still feature, whilst Evens has been struggling with a calf problem that leaves him in doubt for the weekend. Nani hasn’t played for United since the beginning of December and won’t be ready until early March at the earliest.
With Pulis’ full complement at his disposal and matters going well, the former Stoke boss won’t be inclined to make any changes from the side that beat West Brom 3-1 prior to the postponement of the Everton clash. In-form Tom Ince should start in support of Marouane Chamakh up front, with Mile Jedinak and Kagisho Dikgacol pairing in central midfield flanked by Yannick Bolasie and Jason Puncheon.
Crystal Palace (4-4-1-1): Speroni; Ward, Dann, Delaney, Ledley; Puncheon, Jedinak, Dikgacoi, Bolasie; Ince; Chamakh.
Antonio Valencia featured as the third member of Moyes’ trident behind van Persie against Arsenal, but with poor results on the books in Adnan Januzaj’s time on the bench, the Scot may be inclined to reintegrate him into the starting eleven. Nemanja Vidic and Chris Smalling will likely partner up in central defense once more, with Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick forming the double pivot in front of the back line.
Manchester United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Rafael, Smalling, Vidic, Evra; Carrick, Cleverley; Mata, Rooney, Januzaj; van Persie
Palace have taken full points in three of their last four league contests, the only blip coming in a 2-0 defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates. During Pulis’ reign, the Eagles have lost only once at Selhurst Park – 3-0 to Newcastle in December – winning five of their other six fixtures at their home ground. David Moyes’ charges are mired in a difficult spell at present, taking only eight of 21 points on offer since the turn of the new year and tasting victory in only two of their previous 10 games across all competitions. United haven’t won on the road since December 28, falling to Chelsea and Stoke whilst earning a draw away to Arsenal last time out.
Players to Watch
Crystal Palace – Mile Jedinak
Everything Palace do in midfield runs through the Australian, and with the side running smoothly of late, don’t expect anything to change. Jedinak will have plenty to contend with on the defensive front as Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Juan Mata come to town, but is well-equipped to cope – an expert at breaking up play with 86 interceptions to date. Always quick to turn opposition forays into attack after winning possession, the 29-year-old is a specialist at creating chances (21) from deep-lying positions and will look to catch United out on the counter.
Manchester United – Adnan Januzaj
The heralded 19-year-old has been left out of the starting line-up in four straight games, and will be hoping to receive the chance to prove once more why his should be one of the first names on the team sheet. If United are to break down a stubborn Palace side that excels at home, the type of trickery that Januzaj can provide – 33 take-ons in 60 attempts – will be essential as space should be limited. With 20 created chances to his name the teenager’s creative influence is vital to the cause as well, particularly his ability to provide accurate deliveries out wide – something the Red Devils have struggle with mightily of late.
Despite United’s dismal season it’s almost still stocking to hear such a statement, but based on current form and the hosts’ glowing record at home, Palace look the better value. However, with a sense of desperation settling in for Moyes’ men and Mata gradually becoming more settled in his new surroundings, the Red Devils should be able to muster at least a draw. The affair should be hotly contested with both sides needing full points in view of their ambitions so could go either way – yet such conditions could nonetheless make for a stalemate.
Crystal Palace 1-1 Manchester UnitedPublished 22 Feb 2014, 02:45 IST