This Saturday, Roy Hodgson leads his men to the Theatre of Dreams, Old Trafford, for a battle against one of England’s biggest clubs.
Manchester United have been a team in existence for 140 years, first forming as Newton Heath LYR F.C in 1878 and then making the transition to Manchester United in 1902, three years before Crystal Palace sprung itself into life.
In that time, the Red Devils have become such a force in English football that their full name is seldom used in modern sporting rhetoric. Instead, they’ve claimed one single and all-encompassing word that, despite its frequent use across the country’s most popular sport, instantly associates itself with the northern powerhouse. Of course, today, they are simply ‘United’.
This season, however, Crystal Palace will be buoyed by the Red Devils’ current league struggles, as United currently sit eighth in the Premier League, a position they haven’t finished in or below since 1990.
Further, United have trailed for 395 minutes so far this season, the longest amount of time for any club starting the weekend outside of the relegation zone.
The root of the problem may lie in the fact that Jose Mourinho’s side have suffered defensively of late, conceding 15 goals from their past six league games, whereas Hodgson’s Palace have seen just 11 hit their net in the same period of time. In addition, the Red Devils have leaked 21 league goals this season with the Eagles, despite sitting eight places behind, having conceded just 17.
Though, at the other end of the pitch, United are firing on all cylinders and have scored in every one of their Premier League games since losing to Tottenham Hotspur on August 27th. The defeat was the only league game of 12 in which they failed to net at least once.
The home side’s Anthony Martial is one to watch this weekend, with the Frenchman having scored six goals from just his past five games. And despite the 22-year-old having pulled out of the France squad last week due to a slight hip injury, he will be ready for selection on Saturday.
Other goal scorers no doubt firmly in the minds of Palace fans this weekend will include Darren Ambrose, the former Eagles midfielder having famously rifled into Ben Amos’ net from 35 yards to break the deadlock in a 2011 League Cup game eventually won by a Glenn Murray header in extra-time.
Palace entered the tournament’s semi-finals following the 2-1 victory that night at Old Trafford but failed to reach the final at Wembley following a loss away to Cardiff City on penalties in the second leg of the round.
The team for those games included names such as Kagisho Dikgacoi, Sean Scannell and Nathaniel Clyne, as well as former captain Mile Jedinak and current first-team star Wilfried Zaha.
Two years later, Zaha sojourned in Manchester when he moved briefly to United. He debuted in the 2013 Community Shield final which the Red Devils won. However, the Ivorian returned to Crystal Palace following a loan spell to Cardiff City in 2014, re-signing permanently in 2015.
Zaha is a doubt for Saturday's game, however, with a slight hamstring injury.
Elsewhere, Palace fans ought to keep an eye on the Burnley vs Newcastle United game which takes place on Monday 26th at 20.00. The two sides sit just one point ahead of the Eagles, with the Clarets having a markedly poorer goal difference. The result of that game will be important to Palace’s league position, especially if they pick up points two days before against United.
Roy Hodgson revealed that first-team players Zaha, Mamadou Sakho and James Tomkins will all be available to play for Crystal Palace, which will boost his range of choice from a strong squad.
United have been buoyed by the return of Marcus Rashford, Romelu Lukaku, Marouane Fellaini, Paul Pogba and Martial; all previously doubts for the game. During his press conference, however, Mourinho revealed that he has an almost entirely fully fit squad to choose from.
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