It has been the longest of international breaks, not least because David Moyes’ players return to domestic football having lost, somewhat ignominiously, to Liverpool a fortnight ago. With many of Manchester United’s squad involved in World Cup qualifiers, Moyes’ players have gathered for only a few days ahead of the weekend’s match with Crystal Palace, but there can be little doubt that the Scot is under pressure to deliver a result. After all Palace, newly promoted under Ian Holloway’s flambouyant stewardship, is only a point behind the Reds.
Still, Moyes will be able to call on £27.5 million signing Marouanne Fellaini for the Eagles’ visit, even if Wayne Rooney is likely to be sidelined with a nasty cut to his forehead. The Belgian could start alongside Michael Carrick in central midfield as Moyes attempts to bolster an area of United’s team that failed so conspicuously at Anfield.
Not that Moyes will always deploy his new recruit in midfield; the player was often used in more forward roles last season, scoring 11 times in the Premier League from a position just off Everton’s principle striker. Evidence, some suggest, that Moyes is likely to instill a more direct style of play at Old Trafford in the coming months.
The jury remains out on that theory for the moment although, with a packed schedule in the coming weeks, Fellaini will have little time to bed into whatever role Moyes chooses. The 25-year-old Belgian must adapt quickly if he is to repay some of United’s lavish investment in matches with Palace, Bayer Levekusen, Manchester City and Liverpool before September is out.
“He can play different positions, score goals and is effective in different areas of the field. So I’m hoping that if he can continue to improve we could have a really top player on our hands.
“He was someone who we pencilled in for a position here at Manchester United right from the start. We felt we could do with adding numbers. We had to try and get another central midfield player. But with Marouane being able to play a bit further on as well, it can give us different alternatives if required.
“He’s someone who can play in several roles. We got a lot of games coming up, a busy schedule, and I want to be able to play in different ways in different games so he helps me to do that.”
Meanwhile, Moyes has few injury concerns, Rooney and Phil Jones aside, although all eyes will be on former Palace winger Wilfried Zaha, who has featured little so far this season, and Shinji Kagawa, who has seen just seven minutes’ action. The Japanese international was widely misquoted as being upset with Moyes’ management this week even though the Scot left Kagawa out of his matchday squad at Anfield entirely.
Rooney will again be absent though, having missed United’s 1-0 defeat in Liverpool and two England matches over the past fortnight. The player’s severely gashed head required 12 stitches and the Scouser is unlikely to feature until the risk of the wound reopening has completely dissipated.
“He’s in great physical shape but obviously he’s got the cut right in the middle of his forehead which could split where the skin is very thin,” said Moyes.
“He’s had the stitches out and it’s knitted well. We’ve just got to see where the level of risk is with his head injury.”
Zaha, meanwhile, is unlikely to feature against his old team, with Moyes in no mood to make a sentimental selection for the Saturday lunchtime kick-off.
“He’s been quite bright over the few days since he’s been back. He got a couple of games for the England Under-21s and is one of the most promising players on the way up. The fact that it’s his old club in this game won’t change my views in any way but he’s someone who we hope he can continue to develop and, when we think he’s ready, we’ll get him towards the team.”
Moyes will make a late call on Jones’ fitness, who will play at right-back should he recover from an ankle injury sustained against Liverpool. Jones limped out of the Reds’ defeat after 37 minutes and could be replaced by Antonio Valencia or Chris Smalling if the youngster fails to regain fitness.
Whatever the final line-up United can do little worse than the club’s last meeting with Palace – a 2-1 Carling Cup victory for the south Londoners at Old Trafford in November 2011. Darren Ambrose struck from long range and winger Glenn Murray scored in extra time to seal Palace’s unlikely win.
The much-changed outfit signed 15 players over the summer, although not all have found a happy home at Selhurst Park. New signings Florian Marange and Owen Garvan were left out of Holloway’s 25-man Premier League squad altogether amid increasingly acrimonious fall-out.
The Frenchman claimed that he was “disgusted” with the decision after joining from Bordeaux just weeks ago. ”We needed pace,” said Holloway, “he hasn’t got it.”
Rant wonders whether Holloway is a fully paid-up subscriber to the Bébé school of football scouting.
Still, Holloway will call on former Arsenal striker Marouane Chamakh, who joined Palace on a one-year deal in the summer. The Moroccan scored in Palace’s defeat at Stoke City earlier this season, although the Eagles come off a fine 3-1 victory at Sunderland two week’s ago. That victory elevated Palace to 14th in the nascent Premier League table.
“They’ve brought in a lot of new players in the window and Ian Holloway will be keen to get them integrated quickly. They’re coming off the back of a good result last time as well,” added Moyes on Friday.
Still, the Scot should count on his first home win of the season following United’s disappointing draw with Chelsea. And with it a huge sense of relief after a tedious fortnight away from the domestic game.
Manchester United v Crystal Palace, Premier League, Old Trafford, 12.45pm 14 September 2013
United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Valencia, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Nani, Carrick, Fellaini, Young; Welbeck; van Persie. Subs from: Lindegaard, Buttner, F da Silva, Smalling, Giggs, Cleverley, Anderson, Zaha, Kagawa, Hernández, Rooney
Palace (4-4-1-1): Speroni; Ward, Gabbidon, Delaney, Moxey; Puncheon, Dikgacoi, Jedinak, Campana; Gayle; Chamakh. Subs from: Alexander, Ramage, O’Keefe, Jo Williams, Phillips, Dobbie, Wilbraham, Jerome, Mariappa, Bannan, Kebe, Grandin.
United 26 – Draw 9 – Palace 7
Referee: Jonathan Moss
Assistants: A Halliday, D England
Fourth Official: C Foy