After dropping points in disappointing fashion, Manchester United look to regroup and continue their top-four push Thursday when they face Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.
The stakes for Champions League spots were raised earlier this week when the Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned UEFA’s two-year ban of Manchester City from European play. The deposed champions have already claimed one of those places along with new title-holders Liverpool, leaving United (16-11-8) among five teams vying for spots to Europe’s top two club tournaments.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s club enter this match fifth, trailing Leicester City on goal difference and missed a chance to take fourth after being pegged back to a 2-2 draw at home versus Southampton on Monday. Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial scored three minutes apart in the first half to overturn an early deficit, but Solskjaer may have gotten too defensive with his second-half substitutions in removing both Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes.
That contributed to the Saints being able to swing the match and escape Old Trafford with a point on a stoppage-time marker by Michael Obafemi.
“I’m very disappointed of course, but you have to take the disappointments, as well as the positives when you win games,” Solskjaer said. “Of course, the disappointment with this is when it’s one of the last kicks of the ball and you concede a goal and you lose two points.
“That’s part of football and we’ve learnt a hard lesson, hopefully. We’ll make it right, we’ll put it right. I trust them in that respect.”
If there is one positive, it is that United still control their own destiny since winning out would also include a victory over Leicester City in the season-finale and would provide a finish of no worse than fourth. But to get to that point, they must get themselves right to deal with a normally stubborn Palace side.
“We have to keep our head up, we have three games to go. The next one is Crystal Palace on Thursday, if we win the last three games we are in the Champions League,” midfielder Nemanja Matic told MUTV. “We have another game now, against a very good team again, so we have to go with everything because we want to play Champions League next season.
“I think we deserve that, so I want to say we work positively, recover well and we will see on Thursday if we are ready. I am sure the team is ready.”
Palace (11-9-15) are playing out the string, too far from competing for European places and safely in the top flight for the next term despite entering this contest having dropped five on the bounce. Roy Hodgson’s club were blanked for the fourth time in that span, losing 2-0 at Aston Villa on Sunday.
A goal chalked off by VAR right before halftime swung the match against Palace, who conceded in first-half stoppage time and again before the hour. Compounding the defeat was the racist abuse striker Wilfried Zaha endured before the match, with the comments he uploaded to Twitter resulting in the arrest of a 12-year-old boy from the Midlands.
The Ivory Coast international released a statement on Twitter after the match that read:
“Very disappointed we didn’t get a better result yesterday but I wanted to come on here to thank you for all your messages of support. I would also like to thank West Midlands Police for their swift action in making an arrest.
“People need to understand that whatever your age, that your behaviour and your words come with consequences and you cannot hide behind social media. It is important social media platforms do as they did yesterday and seek out these individuals and remove them.
“This is not the first time I have receive messages like this, nor am I the only player to receive messages like this – it happens every day. I want to thank everyone for the love and support but enough is enough!
“It is not enough to be disgusted by these messages I received and move on. It isn’t enough to just say #notoracism. We need action, we need education, things need to change.”
Project Restart has not been kind to Palace, whose lone result came in a 2-0 win over Bournemouth in the first of their six matches. Still, midfielder Luka Milivojevic has called on his club for a response to end their losing ways and sprint to the tape.
“I don’t want it to look like we are on ‘holiday’ because we are not,” he told the team’s official website. “We are working hard in training. We have to correct things, it is not what we wanted after the break. We have to continue working hard and try to correct and try to put more desire in our performance.”
Palace are seeking their first Premier League double over United after recording their first such win against them in the reverse fixture, stealing a 2-1 victory at Old Trafford on Patrick Van Aanholt’s stoppage-time winner after Daniel James pulled United level on 89 minutes.
The Eagles, who snapped a 20-match winless spell (0-4-16) in Premier League and beat United for the first time in any competition since a League Cup win in 2011, have never done a top-flight double in the 98-year series.
United are 7-3-0 in Premier League matches at Selhurst Park.