Manchester United were dour in an opening-game loss that ended a 14-match unbeaten Premier League run.
Crystal Palace’s second goal was a controversial Wilfried Zaha penalty, retaken because of David de Gea apparently leaving his line when saving Jordan Ayew’s initial effort. But there really can be no excuses for the way United’s frontline was starved throughout due to a concerning lack of energy and creativity.
Following his misdemeanour on England duty Mason Greenwood was a replacement alongside Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s sole summer signing, Donny van de Beek, the manager pointing to the former’s scant pre-season as the reason Daniel James was named in the XI instead.
After their win last weekend, Roy Hodgson’s one change was Mamadou Sakho for Scott Dann and by half-time he would be pleased.
A Scott McTominay foul on Andros Townsend allowed the latter to drive a free-kick which Luke Shaw headed away confidently in the game’s first action. Yet what followed was alarming from United. First De Gea sent a loose pass straight to James McCarthy and he and his team were lucky to escape. Next, though, Jeffrey Schlupp was allowed space to roam along the left before his cross was watched by a slumbering Harry Maguire and Shaw and Townsend slid home.
United’s response was a corner, taken by Bruno Fernandes that came to nothing, and when Zaha broke a weak Victor Lindelöf header back to De Gea was compounded by the keeper fluffing his touch before he recovered.
Palace were in charge and United had to wake up. The visitors were quick to the challenge and fleeter of foot, as when Zaha drew a foul from a labouring Paul Pogba. Better was a quick move that went from the home team’s area to Palace’s, via Marcus Rashford, James and Anthony Martial. In the ensuing play Pogba – finally – had a first United shot on target, Vicente Guaita saving low to his right. Further encouragement came when McTominay’s effort drew another Guaita stop, before Martial went close to slipping in behind.
Defensively, too, United looked to be sharpening up. A foot race between Zaha and Lindelöf along the left was won by the Swede; then Maguire’s lunge blocked a Schlupp piledriver. And, when Guaita sliced a clearance with Rashford poised to take advantage, Palace’s keeper required Joel Ward to clean up.
Yet as the interval neared there was a definite sense of a bitty contest in which United were paying for their lack of concentration. A Tyrick Mitchell and McCarthy challenge on Pogba in the area that took the Frenchman down was checked by VAR for a penalty but nothing was given. That this was about as close as United came to threatening the lead summed up their first half.
When his players strolled off for the break Solskjær had some serious sorting out to do, the manager having just seen Ayew force a sharp save from De Gea that stopped Palace from doubling the lead.
The manager made a move by replacing the ineffective James with Greenwood for the second half. In a contest in which United had created little, Solskjær must have reasoned that the youngster’s lethal finishing could be telling.
It is at the other end where United have deeper-lying concerns, the shaky rearguard this time allowing Townsend to feed Ayew who, despite having Lindelöf and Shaw in attendance, could unload at De Gea.
Palace were taking the game to United. The effective Townsend claimed a corner when his shot was deflected. Zaha out-hustled Maguire to win a header. Hodgson’s plan was doing a job impressively on Palace’s hosts.
Greenwood was yet to be involved, the problem being a malfunctioning United midfield that meant no supply line. Soon, though, a chance was created for him. Timothy Fosu-Mensah curved the ball over from the right and a headline was waiting to be written as the No 11 rose, only for him to fluff – badly – a header that careered wide.
Still, United had at last shifted gears, Fernandes’s chip into the area splaying Palace, who were fortunate to escape and who, a little later saw, a Zaha strike ruled offside.
On 67 minutes Van de Beek was given his debut, brought on for the disappointing Pogba. United felt the same emotion when Martin Atkinson, after consulting the monitor, gave a penalty, the referee ruling that Lindelöf’s hand was in an unnatural position when it was struck by Ayew’s shot. The decision looked harsh, as did what ensued when De Gea saved from Ayew. VAR again intervened, this time deeming the Spaniard to have moved. Zaha slammed home the retaken penalty.
After Van de Beek’s slide-rule finish on 80 minutes, Zaha made it 3-1 with a fine finish, and despite pressing in added time United were off to the poorest possible start.