Momentum stalled for Solskjaer as Man Utd's defensive frailties resurface

Defeat supports what United’s critics have been pointing out since the game restarted - the desperate need for Solskjaer to improve his defence.
Momentum stalled for Solskjaer as Man Utd's defensive frailties resurface

ON THE BACK FOOT: Man United's Victor Lindelof (left) backtracks as Palace's Michy Batshuayi threatens. 

Man Utd 1 (van de Beek 80)  Crystal Palace 3 (Townsend 7, Zaha 74 pen, 85)

Manchester United supremo Ed Woodward offered an impassioned explanation before his club’s opening league game of the new campaign for why there has been such a close season of relative transfer inactivity at Old Trafford.

It took Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s ragged and uninspired team all of seven minutes to demonstrate why the club’s supporters are disillusioned by that financially prudent business approach.

And by the time the curtain had fallen on a worryingly disheartening display by his team, Solskjaer might have been sharing the disquiet of those supporters.

All three goals were defensive nightmares that summed up why a move for Porto's Brazilian defender Alex Telles is being talked about and looks a necessity.

But the opener was the one that probably featured the best all-round, collective contribution of ineptitude by a defence which, lest we forget, is anchored by a player who cost United £80 million 12 months ago.

That goal certainly supported what United’s critics have been pointing out since the game restarted in June, and before - the desperate need for Solskjaer to improve his defence.

That was painfully evident as Tyrick Mitchell played the ball down United’s right, Jeffrey Schlupp crossed and Andros Townsend lost Luke Shaw to convert at the far post.

It was a goal that was devoid of any attempt at serious defensive intervention by United, who looked casual and way too nonchalant in conceding a goal that looked like it belonged on a training field, such was the lack of opposition from the home side.

Worse was to come after the break, with the wretched Lindelof front and centre in a performance that might be looked back on as the moment when his United career all but came to an end.

The Swedish defender had actually just missed a difficult chance to equalise when Jordan Ayew powered into the area, beating the United man before his shot deflected off Lindelof’s arm.

A lengthy delay followed before an even lengthier one saw referee Martin Atkinson jog to his pitch side screen on the advice of his VAR and award the penalty.

David de Gea actually made a superb stop to deny Ayew’s spot kick only for play to continue and Atkinson then to re-award the penalty after the VAR clearly showed that the keeper had moved from his line before his save.

Man of the match Wilfried Zaha made no mistake with a clinical re-take although United had brief hope when substitute van der Beek swept in a cross from Timothy Fosu-Mensah after rare errors in the Palace defence.

As Alex Ferguson watched on from the stands, perhaps he was dreaming of halcyon days and a dramatic United comeback … but his beloved club’s defence had other ideas.

Zaha picked up the ball on 84 minutes, sped past Lindelof once more and, with Maguire standing off, buried in a shot from the edge of the area.

By then, United supporters watching at home may well already have come across Woodward’s comments, made in the programme and reported by the media, in which he sought to explain why the only major signing to date during the current transfer window has been Dutch midfielder Donny van der Beek.

"Disruption from the pandemic continues to create huge economic pressures,” wrote Woodward. “We are fortunate to be more resilient than most clubs, but we are not immune. We must be responsible with our resources during his challenging time."

Not even the most diehard Stretford End-er would disagree with the sensible sentiments expressed by their club’s executive vice-chairman but this is Premier League football where “sensible” does not usually count for much.

It is also the era in top-flight football of “what about-ism” where any club or player’s behaviour or transgressions are immediately compared with that of a supporter’s rival. Yes, Woodward may be taking a perfectly reasonable approach to post-Covid austerity but United supporters have seen rivals like Manchester City and Chelsea and, more recently, Liverpool and Tottenham behave as “normal” in the market, spending big sums and strengthening their squads accordingly.

“Last season represented progress for us but that was just a step forward. The next challenge is continuing that progress,” said Solskjaer in the build-up to the game.

The remaining two and a bit weeks of the transfer market will see whether or not Woodward will find a way to bring in new blood and help facilitate that development.

But on the evidence of this opening 90 minutes of the season, that is precisely - and desperately - what United need.

MAN UTD (4-2-3-1): De Gea 7; Fosu-Mensah 5 (Ighalo 81), Lindelof 3, Magure 5, Shaw 5; Pogba 6 (van der Beek 67, 7), McTominay 7; Rashford 6, Fernandes 6, James 5 (Greenwood 45, 5); Martial 6. 

Subs not used: Henderson, Bailly, Fred, Wan-Bissaka.

CRYSTAL PALACE (4-2-3-1): Guiaita 7; Ward 6, Kouyate 6, Sakho 8, Mitchell 7; McArthur 7, McCarthy 7 (Milivojevic 88); Townsend 8, Ayew 8 (Batshuayi 81), Schlupp 7 (Eze 75, 6); Zaha 9. 

Subs not used: Hennessey, Meyer, Kelly, Inniss.

Referee: M Atkinson 6

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