Points off Palace ahead of a Grecian Adventure
There was a pleasant return to winning ways for David Moyes and Manchester United this evening as the team won away from home for the first time this year. Goals courtesy of Van Persie from the spot and Rooney on the half volley ensured that the team jet off to Athens on a high.
A strong starting line up from Moyes showed his determination to move up the Premier League table, choosing not to protect any key players before Tuesday’s key European fixture. With the quartet of Mata, RVP, Rooney and Januzaj all starting together for the first time, there was no doubt on paper that it offered a dangerous proposition. As United looked to put the recent crossing disaster behind them from Fulham, it was interesting to see the tactics play out.
The first half was one in which perhaps illustrated United’s recent struggles. Whilst the possession was there, any incisiveness was less evident. A well-disciplined Palace had obviously been set up by Pulis to soak up the United pressure and then sucker punch on the counter.
Going forward, Van Persie rather spectacularly attempted the first clear chance of the game with an overhead kick when a more conservative headed approach may have been assured to at least challenge the keeper.
Nonetheless, after the infamous performance against Fulham, it was nice to see the midfield starting to look more lively as chances were worked centrally before the occasional pass wide. A Fellaini miskick might have provided much-needed confidence for the Belgian on his return from injury, but a lack of conviction and match awareness resulted in a tame effort.
As the five man Palace midfield remained rigid, opportunities were few and far between. Mata was forced to move centrally in order to sit alongside Rooney to dictate the play and tempo. However, after Januzaj saw a goal dubiously ruled out for handball, the tables began to turn as the creativity of Mata in a more central role started to pay dividends. Yet, the Spaniard’s creativity was all too often hindered by the minimal support he was receiving from his team mates- leading to growing fan frustration.
Nonetheless, Rooney soon after become more lively and he was unlucky not to put the Reds ahead when his cross come shot was cleared on the line by Ward.
Defensively too, it was hardly textbook. The ageing partnership of Vidic and Ferdinand was at times nerve-racking with the former making some bad passes and the latter lacking that bit of pace.
As half time approached, United’s best chance arrived when a bobbling ball fumbled its way past Mata and into the path of the returning Fellaini. A lack of finesse, composure and alertness were all evident as the ball ballooned far and wide past the post.
The second half started with United still in the dressing room, a sleeping defence caught napping with De Gea forced to tip a corner over the bar. Ferdinand again the culprit. Thereafter the chances and central play began to flow. Rooney’s positioning allowed him to drop deep to collect the ball from Fellaini before then striding forward to start an attack exchanging with Mata. There were signs that a goal was approaching, but the Palace defence remained resolute.
The vital goal came on the hour mark via the spot. After Chamakh was adjudged to have fouled a scampering Evra on the left side of the box, RVP was on duty from 12 yards. Despite other penalties this week, the Dutchman calmly sent Speroni the wrong way to expertly slot into the right corner.
The tension was broken at Selhurst park, with the signs visibly clear on David Moyes’ face, and it was expected that United would push on. That didn’t happen before De Gea made a great save however when Jerome sent a curling effort towards the bottom corner.
After that, United’s play became much more encouraging and a second goal soon followed. Evra was again instrumental in the build up as his deflected cross fell to the arriving Rooney who applied the finish on the half volley. A well deserved goal for the striker who, fresh from his megabucks contract, looked much improved in attitude and performance. As the gears were cranked up, Adnan released RVP who saw his shot rattle the bar, and United’s class became evident.
With the game beyond doubt, Moyes rang in the changes ahead of his Grecian adventure. RVP, Adnan and Fellaini all came off with Fletcher, Giggs and Valencia their replacements. United continued to threaten right until the whistle which will be encouraging given the snoozefest at the Emirates. Attitude, desire and hunger all seemed more present as the team grabbed a much-needed 3 points to lift the squad.
Ahead of his midweek trip in Europe, Moyes must decide for me some vital points. Centre backs, midfield and squad rotation. Whilst Fellaini offered much promise on his return, you may think that the experience and wisdom of Giggs may be selected in what could be a tricky away leg. Similarly the centre backs require a reshuffle given that Vidic and Ferdinand can not be expected to turn around for a second match so quickly. Still, with the squad now confident from today’s win. Much hope and earnest can be expected on Tuesday night.