It was a routine win against an ordinary side for Manchester United at Old Trafford. Yet, it is hard to remember the last time United enjoyed the amount of control on the way to a victory – so much so that David De Gea, usually in the thick of things in every result – good or bad, did not have to make a save that I can recall with admiration. The win took the Red Devils closer to their pursuit of finishing in the top four and they are now two points off third-placed Manchester City – although that could change after Thursday’s fixture between Arsenal and West Bromwich Albion.
An early goal would have been the last thing Alan Pardew would have wanted going to Old Trafford – where they have never won in the Premier League era. With one eye on the cup semi-final and an injury-ridden squad by all means, the odds would always be stacked against them despite the good result at the Emirates in the previous fixture. Their fears were realized when Damien Delaney gifted the hosts with the opening goal as early as the third minute and were on the back-foot ever since.
For United, this was another game they could not afford to slip up, and thankfully, they did not. Six points in the two home games against Aston Villa and Crystal Palace were the initial objectives for United to achieve – ahead of their tricky run of final four games in the bid to finish in the Champions League spots and Dutchman Louis Van Gaal would be relieved they had done that and have a trip to Wembley to forward to in the weekend.
United never had to come out of their blocks at any stage in the game, really. Not that they would have done if it were necessary, but Palace did make life easy for the midfield trio of United on the day composed of Schneiderlin, Mata and captain Rooney who enjoyed the lion’s share of possession – shifting the ball from side to side creating a fair few opportunities from time to time. About 200 of United’s 568 passes were completed in the attacking third by United – thanks to the movement of Rashford, Lingard and Martial up top, creating time and space for the aforementioned midfielders to pass through the lines.
The goal that sealed all three points was the highlight of the day and was worthy of beating Palace goalkeeper Speroni who had a superb game – making some crucial saves towards the end of the first half to keep Palace in the contest. United peppered their goal throughout the game, managing three off target, three blocked and nine attempts on target – including the wonderful volley from Mateo Darmian in front of the Stretford End for which also was his first goal for Manchester United.
Louis Van Gaal, to his irritation, at still having to answer the obvious questions concerning his future at the club and his potential successor Jose Mourinho, sounded guarded ahead of the big game against Everton in the capital. He said,
“I have told my players that it was a good game and the only remark is that we didn’t score too much goals because it was a match of a 5-0. We needed three points and that is what I said to my players. Darmian was surprising me on Monday in the training session. We did a sort of finishing session and he was the top scorer in that time.”
The training session had worked a treat for the Italian who has had a stop start season – having started brightly, tailed off, but still one of the more experienced and versatile defenders in the United side that could play a huge role in the coming weeks before the European Championships in France.
On a day, when off the field issues such as fan displeasure reflecting on the poor attendance for a league game at Old Trafford, the football on the pitch and the result, did not disappoint. One could only hope they carry this momentum on to what should be Van Gaal’s biggest game in his United career.