It appears that no matter how hard they try, Manchester United are unable to shake the fact that mediocrity is now a staple characteristic of the once-dominant (if that even means anything anymore) club. Case in point is the fact that the focus of this summer’s transfer window was to bolster the defense, and yet they looked porous as ever when facing off against Crystal Palace at home to the point where they allowed an injury time winner from the visiting side.
Yet the problems began early for United. About 31 minutes into the match Jeffrey Schlupp was able to easily outmuscle defender Victor Lindelöf for a ball in the air that was dumped off to a streaking Jordan Ayew. The forward had virtually no obstacles in his way to the opening score, slotting his shot past the outstretched legs of David De Gea.
Palace nearly doubled their lead moments later when Lindelöf was once again exposed to be a poor defender, only for De Gea to come up huge and actually save the shot from Wilfred Zaha.
United’s next real chance didn’t come until the second half when Joel Ward brought down Anthony Martial in the box, awarding a penalty to the home team. Marcus Rashford, who was controversially removed from penalty duty in favor of Paul Pogba on Monday against Wolves—Pogba would go on to miss—was given the opportunity this time around, only for his shot to bounce off the post and roll harmlessly out of play.
For what it’s worth, United did put up a strong fight on the offensive end, with possession mostly falling in their favor, and players regularly demonstrating that they could expose Palace’s less-talented defenders at will. But those kind of showcases end up being worthless if nothing tangible comes out of it. It took until the 89th minute for that something to happen.
Pogba began a quick counter after winning the ball off of a hard tackle. It then bounced from Martial, to Rashford, back to Martial and then to newcomer Daniel James, who curled in the late equalizer and appeared to rescue his side from total embarrassment.
Of course, United’s defense wasn’t done with its pursuit of total incompetence. As the five minute injury time was announced, the home crowd grew excited at the chance of a classic Fergie-like late winner, but were instead given an example of what happens when there’s no one on the pitch capable of leading a back line.
Pogba this time sloppily lost possession, which allowed Palace to go off on a two-man break. Though the formation was strong, it appeared as though there was very little communication among United’s defenders, who allowed Patrick van Aanholt to make his way into the box unimpeded and get off the late winner past De Gea.
As there always is, there will be those who claim that Gary Cahill should have been sent off after a second foul that looked like it deserved a yellow card, that VAR robbed United from at least one potential penalty or any number of garden variety complaints about officiating. Regardless of the validity of those complaints, the reality is that despite dominating a majority of the match, United were unable to overcome the two brief spells that their visiting opponents were able to turn into goals. The result is no one’s fault but their own, and is likely symbolic of what kind of middling season this team is in for.