The Paul Pogba problem
Maybe the biggest winner from Manchester United’s recent poor performances is Paul Pogba, who suddenly holds a significant hand of cards if he wants to stay at Old Trafford.
Pogba was in fine form before his injury and he was influential in United’s own good run, but his absence in recent weeks has left a void, especially with Bruno Fernandes struggling.
Against a deep and disciplined Crystal Palace defence United lacked the tools and the ingenuity to break them down. There was too much pressure on Fernandes and the front three, all of whom underperformed.
One of the biggest issues was Fred and Nemanja Matic playing in midfield together. Their safe and slow passing gave Palace time to regroup and get organised. United lacked incision when in possession and by the time the ball reached the final third every door was locked.
Since Pogba picked up his injury against Everton United have won just three of seven games, one of which required extra-time. They’ve now gone three games without scoring for the first time since April 2019.
As United have struggled for creativity recently, at West Brom, Chelsea and now Crystal Palace, it’s been clear they’ve missed Pogba’s gifts. Without him the midfield doesn’t offer enough from deeper areas.
We still don’t know what Pogba’s future holds. His contract expiries next summer and if he isn’t going to sign a new deal it would make sense to try and get some money for him this summer.
If he goes, United need to try and find a replacement, but if he’s willing to stay, and there might not be much of a market for him at the moment, he holds all the cards at the moment.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can point to injuries that have reduced his options on the bench, such as Pogba, Donny van de Beek and Anthony Martial, but the fact is he’s barely used Van de Beek and Martial is out of form.
There was still talent on the bench in south London but Solskjaer was reluctant to use it. How the XI that started that game lasted 74 minutes will long be a mystery.
In the end the first sub was Scott McTominay for Fred, before Daniel James came on for Edinson Cavani. Both were relatively bright but it highlights the lack of game-changing options at Solskjaer’s disposal and his reluctance to use them.
This was arguably a good night to throw on Amad for the final 10 minutes, but the 18-year-old remained an unused sub and United never looked like making the breakthrough.
Out of form forwards
We can give Cavani an off night given he’s missed the last four games through injury, although he did miss two half-chances in the first half, but the lack of goals coming from United’s forwards at the moment is another major concern.
Mason Greenwood has now scored just once in his last 22 games and while Marcus Rashford’s record is better he’s been some way short of his best recently. He might have had United’s best chance, but tried to be cute with the finish and rolled it just wide of the near post.
In his absence with injury Martial’s stock probably rose, but he has scored only twice in his last 15 games, both against a demoralised Southampton side late on in the 9-0 rout.
Dean Henderson’s third start in a Premier League game for United was brought about by David de Gea’s absence due to personal reasons, but the academy graduate did all he could to impress.
Henderson hasn’t really been tested in any of his recent starts and that was the case again at Selhurst Park, but he did what was required of him and still managed to catch the eye on a couple of occasions.
The 23-year-old’s kicking was rock solid and given the aerial threat Crystal Palace can carry, his decision to come to the edge of his six-yard box and claim their first corner with total ease was a positive sign. His concentration was also tested late on. Having been a spectator for much of the second half he produced a vital late save to deny Patrick van Aanholt.
When these two teams met on what was United’s first weekend of the season the impact of Donny van de Beek off the bench was one of the few positives for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side.
But rather than heralding the arrival of an exciting new midfielder that proved to be a false dawn. As a team United have recovered from that 3-1 defeat, but Van de Beek has regressed.
Having been on the bench at Chelsea on Sunday he was back to being labelled a doubt by Solskjaer on Tuesday and wasn’t in the squad at Selhurst Park. In the team news bulletins given to broadcasters before the game Van de Beek didn’t warrant a mention.
The 23-year-old has now featured in just 13 of United’s 27 Premier League games and incredibly he’s started only two of them. United will expect him to improve for a full pre-season in a more ‘normal’ campaign, but there is a degree of pressure on him now to show why they spent £35million on him.