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Palace rout has Man United plumbing new Premier League depths

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LONDON — This is descending into the worst season Manchester United have ever had in the Premier League. And Crystal Palace helped nudge them down that dismal path as they swiped aside Erik ten Hag’s side with a completely dominant 4-0 win at Selhurst Park on Monday.

The hosts exploited their injury-hit opponents, pulled apart their new-look combinations and at times toyed with them like a cat playing with a piece of string. They comfortably defeated Ten Hag’s beleaguered side thanks to a performance of wonderful attacking ruthlessness spearheaded by their brilliant trio up front of Michael Olise, Eberechi Eze and Jean-Philippe Mateta.

Ten Hag has been battling an ever-growing injury list at United this season, and had Bruno Fernandes, Harry Maguire and Scott McTominay all adding to the absent contingent in the buildup to this trip to South London. Their absences meant Casemiro and Jonny Evans became the 14th different centre-back combination fielded by Ten Hag this season as he looked to paper over the cracks.

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But Evans and Casemiro looked lost and were no match for the movement and genius of their confident, creative opponents. Olise finished with two — Palace’s first and fourth — and could’ve had more. Mateta scored a brilliant first-half goal, and Tyrick Mitchell grabbed another in the second half.

The postmortem will be brutal from a Manchester United perspective. If ever they watch back footage from referee Jarred Gillet’s “Ref-Cam,” then it’ll provide a neat alternative to the “Blair Witch Project.” It’s difficult to pinpoint one area where they fell apart — it was a comprehensive capitulation. And few struggled more than the vastly experienced Casemiro, who had an awful match. He was completely at sea for Palace’s opener through Olise, and then guilty of getting caught on the ball for the second and fourth goals.

But his struggles just fitted into what felt like a moment: an embarrassment that could hasten action at the end of the season from United’s new minority owner, Sir Jim Ratcliffe. This was surely the nadir of a poor campaign. There’s long-standing uncertainty over Ten Hag’s future at the club — no forthcoming backing from the new chiefs — and while United still have an FA Cup final to look forward to, this was a brutal reality check.

It was United’s 13th defeat in the Premier League this season, bringing up a new unwanted club record, surpassing the 12 losses they conceded in the 2013-14 and 2021-22 campaigns. And following a weekend where both Newcastle United and Chelsea won convincingly, this defeat sees them remain in eighth — which would be their worst finish in the Premier League era. On the flip side, this win marked the first time Palace have done the league double over Manchester United after they won 1-0 in the reverse fixture back in September. The Eagles are soaring.

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“This was the fourth defeat in 2024, so far,” said Ten Hag after the match. “You have always seen a team that was following a script, we had a lot of wins and were hard to beat, and today we weren’t hard to beat.

“It’s very disappointing, the worst defeat, they should’ve done better. It was not correct, making big mistakes, not following the plan and script and the moves we have. We can make mistakes, but we didn’t cover each other and it was a bad defeat.”

But the worrying thing for United? This defeat could and should have been heavier. Olise scored a brilliant opener in the 12th minute as he danced past a reckless Casemiro to run at the heart of the United defence and then finished brilliantly past André Onana.

Palace added a wonderful second in the 40th minute as United managed to get themselves into a midfield tangle and lost the ball through Casemiro.

It left United scrambling, and all that was needed to unlock their defence was a neat pass from Chris Richards to Mateta, who comfortably darted past Evans and hammered it past a marooned Onana. Palace had further first-half chances, with the best perhaps Olise’s in the 27th minute as he pounced on a wavering Kobbie Mainoo and ran through clean on goal, only to get the ball tangled in an outstretched Onana.

United came out early for the second half, looking bewildered as they watched back the first-half highlights on the stadium’s TV screen while waiting for Palace. Perhaps Ten Hag’s half-time team talk would bring about some fight. But any hope of a second-half resurgence was quickly halted. Palace were prodding away, with Eze firing wide after a wonderful one-two with Olise, but they got their just reward with a third when Joachim Andersen outmuscled Diogo Dalot and gave Mitchell the chance to tap home their third.

And then came Olise’s second and Palace’s fourth. Casemiro — again — was at fault as he was caught by Daniel Muñoz on the flank. His inside ball found Olise, who took a couple of touches and then fired past Onana. Palace nearly had a fifth, with Odsonne Édouard striking Onana’s right post with a brilliant effort in injury time. The old ground shook — fans pinching their eyes at Palace securing their fourth win in five under manager Oliver Glasner, who triggered this renaissance when he took charge back in February.

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Palace made just one change from their last runout, while United’s two changes saw Mason Mount start a league match for the first time since October. They had only one outfield player aged over 21 on the bench (Sofyan Amrabat), compared to the experience at Palace’s disposal among their replacements who included Marc Guehi and other club stalwarts like Jordan Ayew and Jeffrey Schlupp.

United did have the ball in the net twice. Casemiro had an effort (perhaps harshly) ruled out in the first half as Rasmus Højlund was deemed to have fouled goalkeeper Dean Henderson as he sought to keep out a looping header from the Brazilian, and the makeshift centre-back then had a second-half effort chalked off for an offside. But their end return of just two shots on goal showed their profligacy. And despite the inclusion of both Casemiro and Evans at the heart of United’s defence, it proved to be completely futile. They lacked any resistance and shape, the balance all wrong with players charging out of position. And from there, their foundations collapsed, failing to find any coherence or understanding.

For Palace — there’s an air of excitement and optimism here. This team played brilliantly — the midfield duo of Adam Wharton and Will Hughes controlling the match, and that Glasner brought on an extra striker in Édouard in the second half to go even more attacking despite being three goals up at the time showed their intents here (and their bloodlust). They’re moving in an exciting direction but will need to fend off plenty of admirers for their wonderful talents this summer.

But for United, they have to pick themselves off the canvas before the knockout count and find a way to haul themselves back into the mix for a European spot. They have Arsenal and Newcastle at Old Trafford to come and Brighton & Hove Albion away on the last day, but unless they get some of the injured contingent back, and regain some form and confidence, then they are risking the ignominy of this being their worst ever Premier League season, and with that, the pressure on Ten Hag will only increase.



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