Man United 1-3 Crystal Palace
- Goals: Donny van de Beek (£7.0m) | Andros Townsend (£6.0m), Wilfried Zaha x2 (£7.0m)
- Assists: Jeffrey Schlupp (£5.5m), Jordan Ayew (£6.0m), Tyrick Mitchell (£4.0m)
- Bonus Points: Zaha x3, A Townsend x2, Schlupp x1
Manchester United look far from ready to command Fantasy Premier League investment this season after their disappointing 3-1 home defeat to Crystal Palace.
Having missed the first Gameweek of the season, the Red Devils looked rusty and devoid of ideas as Roy Hodgson’s men constantly exploited their high defensive line and poor passing.
24.6% of Fantasy managers decided to go into Gameweek 2 with Bruno Fernandes (£10.5m) in their team, but their enthusiasm for the premium midfielder went unrewarded.
Not only did the Portuguese international register a blank, but there were also very few promising signs or bad luck either. After non-stop contributions to club and country between the end of 2019/20 and beginning of the new campaign, Fernandes looked exhausted against Crystal Palace and his FPL owners may already be concerned about how much he can contribute in the coming Gameweeks.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing for Fernandes and his band of Fantasy followers was how much defending he was tasked with. As he and his Manchester United colleagues were sloppy in possession at Old Trafford, Fernandes was forced to recover the ball on multiple occasions. Ironically, he was probably one of United’s best players in this department, but anyone with a £10.5m midfielder in their Fantasy team does not want to see him fulfilling the so-called Makélélé role, no matter how well he does so.
Of even greater concern for Fernandes’ owners was the impact that new signing Donny van de Beek (£7.0m) had once he arrived on the pitch. The Dutchman came on for Paul Pogba (£8.0m) in the 67th minute, tasked with number 10 duties, pushing Fernandes back into a deeper role alongside Scott McTominay (£5.0m).
“Paul (Pogba) has been training really well since he came back and for Donny (van de Beek) it’s his first game, so that’s (why he doesn’t start) today.” – Ole Gunnar Solskajer, speaking pre-match
Crucially, van de Beek was one of only a few United assets who looked fresh and ready for the campaign, and his 80th-minute goal will surely help him work into Solskjaer’s plans for the Gameweek 3 trip to Brighton. If van de Beek does indeed start at the Amex Stadium, assessing his on-the-pitch relationship with Fernandes will be a vital monitoring exercise for Fantasy managers.
With their most creative player not at his best, Manchester United’s other attacking assets were starved of quality service and also offered very little. Marcus Rashford (£9.5m) was virtually anonymous despite facing a favourable match-up with Crystal Palace’s right-back Joel Ward (£4.5m).
Meanwhile, Solskjaer was forced into deploying Daniel James (£6.5m) and Timothy Fosu-Mensah (£4.5m) on the right-hand side of attacking midfield and defence, in light of short pre-seasons for Mason Greenwood (£7.5m) and Aaron Wan-Bissaka (£5.5m), both of whom were on the bench. The second-choice pairing did not work out even remotely, perhaps no surprise considering how rarely the two players have featured together.
As a result of Fernandes, Rashford and James putting in toothless displays, Anthony Martial (£9.0m) was left to feed off scraps in an isolated lone forward’s furrow.
Greenwood admittedly added a bit of energy on the right once he replaced James at half time but it was still not enough. The mid-priced midfielder should have scored United’s first goal of the season when he nodded a Fosu-Mensah cross wide at the far post. Despite that miss, he will almost certainly be back in the team for Gameweek 3, which might help get the Red Devils’ attacking going.
“Let’s see if we need (Greenwood). He’s always a good option to have on the bench. He’s had a shorter pre-season than what we hoped for. That’s the reason behind a few of the calls so far (including Matić and Wan-Bissaka).” – Ole Gunnar Solskajer, speaking pre-match
Either way, it was clear from Manchester United’s rusty performance that improvement is needed before they can command the same level of Fantasy power as they did during Project Restart. The fact that they missed Gameweek 1 and had a short turnaround between the end of last season and the beginning of this really showed, the number of players involved on international duty not helping either.
“We had a long season last season and we didn’t finish until August 16 and we have not had enough preparation time to be sharper. We’ve worked hard with the ones who’ve been here, there have been a few players away on internationals.” – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
By comparison, Palace managed to spend pre-season playing four friendlies, getting their first league match out of the way last weekend.
As a result, the difference between the two sides at Old Trafford could not have been more obvious. It was the Eagles who spent the majority of the game on the front foot and asking difficult questions of their opponents, beating their illustrious hosts for shots in the box and efforts on target.
As already mentioned, a combination of a high defensive line and the immobility of Harry Maguire (£5.5m) and Victor Lindelöf (£5.0m) enabled Palace’s rapid front-men to spend nearly all afternoon bearing down on David de Gea (£5.5m) in sweeping counter-attacking moves.
That first paid dividends for Hodgson’s men in the seventh minute when Fosu-Mensah got caught in possession high up the pitch, allowing Jeffrey Schlupp (£5.5m) to press into the vacated right-back space and drag Lindelöf over. Unsurprisingly, the former Leicester man got behind the centre-back easily, flashing a ball across Maguire and Luke Shaw (£5.0m), which was turned in by an unmarked Townsend at the far post.
Just before half time, Palace embarked on another dangerous counter. Zaha powered through the middle, rode the challenge of Fernandes and played Ayew in on the left, who cut inside and saw his ferocious shot tipped over the bar by de Gea.
After the resulting corner progressed to the second phase, Zaha harried possession back on the left-hand side, cutting inside himself and rippling the side-netting.
Ayew and Townsend doubled-up on McTominay in the middle shortly after half-time, catching him out and bearing down on de Gea once more. This time the former Swansea man burst through the middle, had the chance to play it wide to Zaha, but elected to blast an effort straight at the goalkeeper.
Maguire was at fault in the 66th minute when he lost possession in a dangerous area, allowing Ayew to play Zaha into a one-on-one. The Ivorian international fired into De Gea’s net but the goal was overturned for offside.
Two minutes later, Palace had a penalty after a lovely dummy from Townsend had sent Ayew through on goal, his shot blocked by Lindelöf, supposedly with his hand, according to VAR. The forward initially had his penalty saved but it was ordered to be retaken as De Gea was off his line. Zaha stood up to dispatch the re-take. There was plenty of controversy about the goal, but United deserved to be 2-0 down, there was no debate about that.
Where this leaves the penalty situation at Palace is somewhat unclear. Hodgson admitted after the game that the decision to let Zaha take the second one was because he did not want the risk of Ayew having to re-take it. However, penalty expert of recent years Luka Milivojevic (£6.0m) made a second successive substitute’s appearance so could be back in the starting line-up next time.
“I don’t think it’s good for a player to miss a penalty and immediately take another one. His confidence is affected by the miss, it wasn’t a good penalty, it was a fairly comfortable save for De Gea. And I’m sure, if I had allowed him to take (the second) penalty, he might well have scored it. But I didn’t think it was a good idea to take that chance.” – Roy Hodgson
Zaha then added the Eagles’ third as United overstretched to find a late equaliser. He recovered an intended pass from Tyrick Mitchell (£4.0m) to finish United off in the 85th minute.
“You can see we are short and they deserved the points. They were sharper than us in challenges, tackles. We started off slowly and that had a knock-on effect for the rest of the game when they got the first goal.” – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Zaha now has three goals in his first two league games of the campaign, recorded after impressing in pre-season too. His centre-forward role is combining well with a midfield classification and the fixtures are appealing too.
Palace host an in-form Everton in Gameweek 3, but Saturday afternoon highlighted just how many issues remain among Carlo Ancelotti’s defenders. After that, Hodgson’s men face Brighton (home), Fulham (away) and Leeds (home) between Gameweeks 5 and 8.
The Gameweek 4 trip to Chelsea looks tough on paper, but it turns out that Palace are arguably one of the most trustworthy sides when facing so-called bigger clubs. Since May 2015, they have now won nine matches away from home against the Premier League’s big-six, Manchester City the only outfit with more road victories against such opposition (10).
That could also mean good things for Townsend, who has offered value over the first two matches of the campaign. He now has an attacking return in each outing so far this season, and at £6.0m might be slightly easier to fit into a Fantasy team than Zaha.
Manchester United XI (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Shaw, Maguire, Lindelöf, Fosu-Mensah (Ighalo 81′); Pogba (van de Beek 67′), McTominay; Rashford, B Fernandes, D James (Greenwood 46′); Martial.
Crystal Palace XI (4-4-2): Guaita; Mitchell, Sakho, Kouyaté, J Ward; Schlupp (Eze 75′), McCarthy (Milivojevic 88′), McArthur, Townsend; Zaha, Ayew (Batshuayi 81′).
FPL Lessons Learned from Gameweek 2
- Everton 5-2 West Bromwich Albion
- Leeds United 4-3 Fulham
- Manchester United 1-3 Crystal Palace
- Arsenal 2-1 West Ham United
- Southampton 2-5 Tottenham Hotspur
- Newcastle United 0-3 Brighton and Hove Albion
- Chelsea 0-2 Liverpool
- Leicester City 4-2 Burnley
- Aston Villa 1-0 Sheffield United
- Wolves 1-3 Manchester City
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