Manchester United earned a vital victory over Crystal Palace in the Premier League on Thursday night, with Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial striking either side of half-time to guarantee all three points.
It was a crucial result for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side following Leicester’s win against Sheffield United earlier in the day, keeping fifth-placed United level on points with the Foxes with two games remaining.
Here are five things we learned from the game at Selhurst Park:
Sharing the full story, not just the headlines
Fosu-Mensah still plays for Man United
In Luke Shaw’s absence, Timothy Fosu-Mensah made his first Premier League start for United since May 2017.
The Dutch defender, who has spent loan spells at Selhurst Park and Fulham’s Craven Cottage and suffered a knee ligament injury since that last start, was a surprise inclusion on Thursday evening – to say the least.
Fosu-Mensah, now 22, turned in a performance at left-back that was rather lacking in confidence and imagination. While Shaw looks to get forward at every opportunity, Fosu-Mensah barely looked forward at all.
In any case, Diogo Dalot must be looking over his shoulder. Given the Portuguese was beaten to a starting berth by a player who had not started for the club in over three years, perhaps more can be discerned about Dalot’s future at United than Fosu-Mensah’s after Thursday’s fixture.
Solskjaer’s front three still firing
United looked largely lethargic in midfield and defence against Palace, but thankfully for the visitors, that assessment could not be applied to their front three.
Rashford struck his 22nd league goal of the term to give the Red Devils a half-time lead when they didn’t feel fully deserving of it, before Martial added a second – his 17th of the season – late in the latter half.
Both took their goals with great confidence, and that will have transferred to United fans, who are increasingly looking a lucky lot to have three forwards who all seem more likely to score than not every time they step on the pitch.
United revolution could leave Maguire behind
It might seem an unusual thing to say about the most expensive defender on the planet, who only arrived at Old Trafford last summer, and who is captain of his team… but Harry Maguire could be left behind by a United team that are, generally speaking, starting to click at long last.
While United’s front three of Mason Greenwood, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial are spearheading the side’s thrust towards a more exciting future, with Bruno Fernandes and a fit-again Paul Pogba also integral to the effort, one can’t help but look at the rest of the team for weak links.
And – although it was Victor Lindelof who arguably should have been punished with a penalty for a poor challenge on WIlfried Zaha – right now, one of the most fragile is Maguire, who again looked far from convincing on Thursday.
That’s not to say that the England defender will be cast out and sold any time soon, and he improved as the game against Palace went on, but he should not take his starting place for granted – even with his price tag, armband and recent arrival.
Tough luck for Palace
Let’s go back to that Lindelof challenge on Zaha for a moment. The overwhelming consensus following the tackle was that a penalty should have been given against United.
Despite this, it was not deemed a ‘clear and obvious’ decision by anyone at Selhurst Park whose opinion mattered. There is surely only so long that officials can lean on this crutch.
Referees must be encouraged to check their screens, because the number of officiating errors over the last week has proven yet again that a slightly slower game is a more than suitable sacrifice for one in which the right calls are made.
What could have been for Zaha
Over the last few years, Arsenal and Everton have been appeared to be the most probable destinations for Zaha, who has outgrown a competent Palace side. But there was a time when his fate seemed to be intertwined with United.
The Ivory Coast international made just two appearances for the Manchester club between 2013 and 2015, however, a period in which he was twice loaned out to Palace and once to Cardiff.
Amid Zaha’s constant buzzing on Thursday, a praiseworthy performance in which he was denied an assist by half the length of a toe, thoughts drifted to how the 27-year-old would fit into the current United set-up.
That’s not to say he’s needed at Old Trafford by any means – as mentioned above, United’s front three are proving as effective as they are exciting – but one of the most healthy elements of the dynamic between Greenwood, Martial and Rashford is the friendly competition between the three. Zaha’s presence could conceivably augment that, but maybe four is a crowd.