5 Things We Learned: Crystal Palace 1-2 Manchester United

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By David Gee (@DavidGee26)

3 defeats on the bounce meant the game at Selhurst Park carried more importance than it might have with Manchester United still in a fight to return to the Champions League next season.

The Old Trafford outfit were quick to impose their possession on the home side in the first half and good work from the excellent Ashley Young resulted in a penalty when Scott Dann handled inside the area. The spot kick was converted by Juan Mata and United looked in control.

Injuries then forced Luke Shaw and Wayne Rooney off the field and the introduction of Jason Puncheon at half-time brought the hosts to life. His free kick, deflected past David De Gea via a lamentable lack of courage from Daley Blind levelled the match, and from then on the Eagles were on top.

A leaderless United battled on and were fortunate to benefit from a mistake from Julian Speroni which allowed Marouane Fellaini to nod home into an empty net thanks to a clever push from Falcao on the way through. It was far from an inspiring performance, but United left South London with an important 3 points; here are five things we learned from the victory against Alan Pardew’s side.

1) De Gea’s Dominance

Once more the Reds had their goalkeeper to thank after another imperious display. Crucial saves at important moments kept United in the driving seat and the Spaniard showed once more just how valuable he is to the club. The Old Trafford outfit’s defence have made 29 errors this season, but only three have led to goals, and the former Atletico man is the main reason.

De Gea has started every game this season and has become a dominant presence, illustrated none more so than with his save from Glenn Murray having raced from his line and made himself big. Time will tell if he decides to commit his future to the club, but one thing is certain; right now he’s up there with the best in the world.

2) Lack of Leadership

One of the most difficult parts of a transitional phase is maintaining characters and leadership in the dressing room who truly know what the club is about. In that sense, the side that finished the game at Selhurst Park was virtually unrecognisable.

Following Rooney’s departure the side looked devoid of leadership and had the sense of a team that lacked voices and communication. Big characters such as Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra and Giggs have all left in recent years and with a host of new players coming in it was hard to get a real sense of Manchester United on the pitch.

A new Manchester United is of course, developing, but it will be key in the coming months and years that players start to take responsibility and develop a real sense of belonging to the club. With a big summer ahead in the transfer market it is hoped that Louis van Gaal can bring in some real experience and leadership to compliment the potential.

3) Quality needed

Despite picking up the three points, there was never a real sense that United had the tools to break down a resolute and well organised Crystal Palace had they not gifted the Reds a penalty and a free header respectively. It’s become a common theme in recent weeks that Louis van Gaal’s side have been too easy to defend against and once more possession was slow and timid and United looked susceptible to the counter-attack.

Michael Carrick’s absence has proved just how valuable he is to the side and whilst Louis van Gaal currently has a strong squad, it is clear that there are still big gaps, particularly in terms of players of the highest quality. Over the summer United should not be looking for stop gaps; world class, ready made talent is needed in a number of areas if the club are to challenge for the title next season.

4) Midfield Contribution

One positive which was epitomised in South London was the goals contribution of United’s midfield this season. Juan Mata took his tally to double figures and despite an otherwise poor game, Marouane Fellaini popped up with yet another important goal. Ander Herrera, Daley Blind and Michael Carrick have all contributed too and goals from midfield can only be a good sign moving forwards.

Ashley Young continued his resurgence and a midfield that a few years ago was criticised for being stagnant and mechanical is now developing (albeit through new additions) into one that can influence games. There is no doubt that it is an area that Van Gaal will look to strengthen further in the summer but goals from midfield will provide a welcome balance moving forwards.

5) Progression

In many ways it’s hard to judge Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United. At times they look like they’re beginning to click and the performances against Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester City give great cause for optimism. At others, however (and the showing against Crystal Palace was one of them), the side look lethargic, confused and devoid of ideas.

There’s no doubt that the side have improved from the lows of last season, and it is always nice to see five out of the seven substitutes being from the academy. With Champions League now all but assured a big summer awaits and Van Gaal will now have to make good on his promise that the side will challenge for the title.

Re-building a side is never easy and in that sense there is a feeling of job done this season. Nevertheless, a Champions League spot has never been, and should never be, the ambitions of Manchester United; next season needs to bring more.

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