As another Premier League season comes to an end, Manchester United host Crystal Palace to play what is the quintessential definition of a dead rubber.
United are guaranteed to finish, yes you guessed it right, 6th in the league, regardless of the outcome of Sunday’s football match. The Red Devils have put all the eggs in the Europa League basket and paid the price for a lack of complete focus on the Premier League games which has made a top four finish mathematically out of reach. They are win-less in the last five PL games and will go into this final league game on the back of another (a club record) draw in the South Coast with a side that Mourinho has described as a collection of U23s.
Although that may not be the absolute truth, with a European final in 3 days in Stockholm on the horizon, the Portuguese is expected to field a side with as less first team members as possible, which should make this game a bit more entertaining than it could have been, otherwise.
Crystal Palace have endured a difficult first half campaign, sacked the manager and appointed the tried and trusted Sam Allardyce who has delivered success – Premier League survival with games to spare. Wins against Chelsea and Arsenal have been the standout results and the former England manager will be looking to add a memorable win at the Theater of Dreams to his bucket-list for Crystal Palace – all the more so, given the circumstances at Old Trafford.
The visitors will make the trip up North after rounding off their season at Selhurst Park with an emphatic 4-0 win, effectively relegating Hull City in the process. Ahead of the game, Allardyce did echo some of Mourinho’s criticism in his own press conference, of the fixture pile-up and the lack of support from the FA offered to the teams that battle it out in Europe. He said,
“It’s a great shame that we are not like other countries, who will bend over in fixture terms to help their teams win European competitions. We’ve all been moaning about the fact we’re not getting anywhere near the Champions League or we’re not getting anyone winning the Europa League.”
But the niceties could well end there as his Crystal Palace will be out for blood as Manchester United struggle to cope with the distractions of the Europa League.
United will miss several first team members for the visit of Palace. The list of certain absentees include Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcos Rojo, Luke Shaw, Marouane Fellaini, Eric Bailly, Chris Smalling, Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Ashley Young although Smalling and Fellaini will be included in the squad for the final on Wednesday.
Crystal Palace do have their own injury concerns as key players in the side in defender Scott Dann, midfielder Yohan Cabaye and forwards Conor Wickham & Andros Townsend are all doubts ahead of the final league game on Sunday. The Eagles will also miss the services of center-half Mamadou Sakho due to injury.
Manchester United have played Crystal Palace 15 times in the Premier League and have never lost (W12 D3). The only side they have played more without tasting defeat is Charlton (16, W14 D2).
The Eagles have failed to win each of their five Premier League away trips on the final day (D2 L3), conceding 14 goals.
Regardless of the result of this match, Manchester United have won the fewest number of games in a single Premier League season (currently 17) – worse than their tally of wins in both 2013-14 and 2015-16 (19 wins).
Crystal Palace have lost 20 Premier League games this season and a defeat in this match would equal their record of defeats in a single PL campaign (21 in 1997-98).
Paul Pogba – Manchester United
The Frenchman returns to boost the side after attending the funeral of his father. Paul Pogba has had a mixed first season and although he will be under further scrutiny this time next season, should he remain inconsistent, the 23-year old can do himself a world of good by delivering the goods in United’s final two games – and particularly the final in Stockholm.
Against a side, in an inconsequential game, Pogba has the chance to, what is by all accounts, the most important game Manchester United will be involved in, since the retirement of Sir Alex.
Wilfried Zaha – Crystal Palace
It is not an exaggeration to suggest that Zaha has been ‘the key’ to Crystal Palace’s revival under Sam Allardyce. The former Manchester United winger did not have the best of times at Old Trafford for various reasons and if there is one club he would want to perform at, in a bid to show what could have been, it has got to be United.
He has been in scintillating form for Palace scoring 7 and assisting 9 – taking his combined tally to 16. To put that into context, only Ibrahimovic has managed a higher number than that at Manchester United. Zaha has made big strides this season and will be integral to the visitors’ game-plan on the final day of the season.
If this game ends as a draw then Manchester United would set a new outright record for the most home draws in a Premier League season (11).
It’s hard to imagine United missing out on an opportunity to make history.
Manchester United 2-2 Crystal Palace