Man United v Crystal Palace: United can roar back into action with clear-cut win

Andrew Atherley says the form figures point to a comfortable win for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side when Manchester United host Crystal Palace on Saturday afternoon...

Manchester United v Crystal Palace
Saturday 19 September, 17:30
Live on Sky Sports

Late start for United

This is Manchester United's opening match of the Premier League season, delayed because their extended run to the Europa League semi-finals took them to a mid-August finish to the last campaign.

Defeat to eventual winners Sevilla left United trophy-less for the season but their strong form in 2020, sparked by the arrival of Bruno Fernandes in January, has raised expectation levels.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side ended up third, albeit a long way behind Liverpool and Manchester City, having been eighth at the halfway mark.

Donny van de Beek's arrival from Ajax should strengthen United's midfield and he is in the frame to make his competitive debut. Paul Pogba, who recently tested positive for coronavirus, is a doubt on fitness grounds and so is Mason Greenwood, whose misdemeanour on England duty led to him training away from the squad while awaiting the result of a coronavirus test.

Solskjaer has a big decision to make in goal following Dean Henderson's return from his impressive loan at Sheffield United to challenge David de Gea for the no.1 spot. De Gea is expected to hold on to his place for now.

Palace up and running

Palace have three points on the board after last week's 1-0 home win over Southampton, secured by their talisman Wilfried Zaha's early goal along with a typically stout defensive performance.

It was a much-needed boost after their dismal end to last season. After the restart they picked up just four points from nine games, which was better only than relegated Norwich's pointless finish.

Eberechi Eze, their £19.5m summer signing from QPR, made his Premier League debut for the last 10 minutes against Southampton and played the full match in the midweek Carabao Cup tie at Bournemouth, which ended goalless before Palace lost 11-10 on penalties.

Although it did not stop them keeping a clean sheet last weekend, Palace have defensive issues with their injury list including Patrick van Aanholt, James Tomkins, Gary Cahill and Nathan Ferguson, a right-back signed from West Brom. Connor Wickham and Christian Benteke are also injured.

Sharp contrast in post-restart form

United lost 2-1 at home to Palace early last season and they will have to be on their guard against a similar blow to their hopes of closing the gap on Liverpool and Manchester City. That was, however, their only defeat in 22 Premier League meetings with Palace (W17 D4).

United's figures were impressive after the restart, with a W6 D3 L0 record and a 22-6 goals tally. Going back further, their Premier League record with Fernandes in the starting line-up is W9 D5 L0 and that includes a 2-0 win away to Palace in July.

It is worth noting that all nine of United's league wins with Fernandes were by at least a two-goal margin and eight were to nil, which reflects their all-round improvement and not simply as an attacking force.

Scoring is likely to be the issue again for Palace, who managed just 31 goals in 38 league games last season. The bottom two, Watford and Norwich, were the only other teams who averaged less than a goal per game.

Eze gives them another player apart from Zaha who is capable of breaking the lines at pace, but the style of play is still likely to revolve around keeping a solid shape and looking for quick counter-attacks or set-pieces for most of their scoring opportunities.

Their tactics were failing at the end of last season when they lost their last four away matches and conceded at least two goals each time.

Those figures tie in with United's and it is worth trying United off -1.5 on the Asian handicap at 2.06. That is a successful bet if they win by two or more goals, but a loser if they win by one (or fail to win).

Goals on the low side

Both teams were near the top for matches with under 2.5 goals last season. United had 58% unders and Palace had 71%, and United's figures hardly changed before and after Fernandes.

At home, however, United were higher scoring with 58% over 2.5 goals.

Palace failed to score in nine of their 19 away games last season (only Norwich fired fewer blanks) and that led to 58% of their trips having under 2.5 goals.

It is worth noting that five of the eight away games that had over 2.5 goals were against big-six sides, mostly heavy defeats. That is the main factor pushing towards over 2.5 goals, which seems short at 1.70.

Opta Stat

Manchester United haven't lost a Premier League game kicking off at 5.30pm since December 2015 (1-2 vs Bournemouth), winning 13 and drawing five of their 18 such games since then. United are 1.34 to win here.

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