Ahead of the visit of Manchester United to Selhurst Park, TEB had a chat with the guys at The United Devils about the season so far, thoughts on the game and much more.
Q. With the Premier League finding a way to get back playing again, were you for or against the return and regardless of your opinion, how do you think the powers that be have dealt with it?
I was in favour for the return of football as long as it was safe to do so and it looks to be the right call by the authorities as nothing problematic concerning COVID-19 has come up. The lack of fans has obviously been an issue that people do bring up but I think that because there were nine or ten games to play, it was making the best of a bad situation and can wrap this season up and be ready for fan introduction for next season.
I have debated this with some of my fellow writers and I think of all the leagues to have resumed football the Premier League has dealt with the current circumstances very well. You hear the constant tests on the news and how the numbers of positive tests decreased rapidly throughout the testing periods and the gradual return to football has been dealt with expertly. The drinks breaks and five substitutions has changed the game as it essentially makes it four quarters like American Football and the substitutes mean there is a massive change in the side that starts matches. I think for most clubs this has helped but obviously for those without the huge squad depth like Wolves or Norwich, it has been an issue. Overall they have done well and the majority of teams have benefitted from the changes made and it has been dealt with very well.
Q. It seems such a long time ago now but what did you make of the game at Old Trafford earlier in the season?
Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately from my perspective) I did not actually watch this game but having watched the game back my reaction had not changed from reading the live reports from the match. I was disappointed at both goals we conceded, the first was poor from Lindelof and Maguire didn’t read the play but Ayew’s finish was class but in their defence, Maguire was bought six days before the campaign started so didn’t have much experience playing with the Swede. United could easily have had three penalties and the one they were awarded, they were unlucky not to score but that is how some games go. Then the equaliser was excellent and James was criticised for celebrating but if he had celebrated longer, maybe Palace wouldn’t have won the game! It was a poor goal to concede as Van Aanholt was allowed to walk into the box and De Gea was poor as well. I felt like all the work against Chelsea and Wolves was undone and United were back to square one. Fair play to Palace who did play professionally and get the goals but I was more disappointed with United’s performance instead.
Q. How has the season been for you so far and what are you expecting from the run in?
From pre-season I was seeing fans state that United would finish tenth with the squad that finished the season and even when the three players were bought in during the summer. I was always optimistic that United could finish third or fourth but that was really if they could sign a right winger and/or number ten before the season began. United have had some seriously bleak periods of the season, September was rough and while there were good moments in the months that followed, there was always a result or two that cast a shadow over the positive results. We have been a totally different side since February and really, most of that can be attributed to Bruno Fernandes whose performances and mentality have driven the club back into Champions League contention. Overall I have enjoyed the football United have played, injuries and a lack of squad depth has hampered our season substantially but I have loved how the team has developed over the season and has brought back a fear factor that we have been lacking for a while now.
Q. The big question is, can you snatch a Champions League spot?
Solskjaer has said himself, if we win three games out of three as United should expect to do, we will guarantee Champions League football and even though we dropped points on Monday so disappointingly, I expect the new mentality of the team to drive us into the top four. I do also expect Chelsea to drop points, they have Liverpool at Anfield and Wolves at the Bridge and I would expect them to struggle in both. As for Leicester, they have Sheffield United and Spurs up this week and United on the final day so the games are there and United have a far better run in than the both of them. I do expect United to get Champions League one way or another but fully expect United to go for third place as the run-in is in their favour and not have to rely on the Europa League as we did in the 2016/17 season.
Q. Which areas need to be strengthened ahead of the next campaign?
Manchester United need a right winger. It’s obvious. Mason Greenwood and Daniel James have done very well being their first full seasons in top flight football but United have five senior team forwards and it’s not enough. I expect the Jadon Sancho deal to be the priority but given Woodward’s track record, I expect itto be the transfer saga to last most of the summer. Jack Grealish would be a great player to have as an option off the bench for Bruno Fernandes as there are not many options other than Bruno at the moment. I also think that three fit centre backs is not good enough either. Maguire is the only guaranteed starter and while I think Lindelof has done very well, he needs more competition and so does Bailly. Tuanzebe won’t be fit until at least September apparently and so I would like to see another defender come in and add proper competition. Upamecano, Aké and Rodon have been linked but I do think this will be down the pecking order of transfers for Woodward to complete.
Q. Who is your player of the season for United?
Martial, Rashford and Greenwood have all done exceptionally well with the goals they have scored but they have had dips in form during parts of the season. Wan-Bissaka could easily take the award as he has been magnificent defensively for the majority of the season and has started to develop his attacking play more but I cannot stress how much of an impact Bruno Fernandes has made. Eight goals and eight assists in 16 games is staggering for a number 10 and his mentality, positioning and overall play has transformed United since his arrival.
Q. Who will finish top four, which teams will be relegated and who would you like to see promoted?
Of course Liverpool and Manchester City are the guaranteed top two. I would expect United to win three from three and Chelsea and Leicester to drop points so United would finish third. I do then think Chelsea will get fourth place and Leicester will get fifth.
As for relegation I think it will be the three that are currently in the relegation zone. Norwich are already relegated. Villa have crucial games to come but to be fair I don’t see them surviving. 14 signings and barely any of them have Premier League experience, it was a poor series of decisions. Bournemouth have lost players both in attack and defence. Fraser’s form last season was crucial and he fell flat this season and has left the club. Daniels and Smith getting injured have been serious losses and although Ake, King and Ramsdale have been good, it’s not good enough.
As for the Championship, I would like to have the atmosphere between United and Leeds back in the Premier League and West Brom are a very different side to the one that was relegated in 2018 and I’d like to see how much they have improved. It would be interesting to see Derby County in the Premier League, especially with the likes of Rooney, Marriott and Sibley who played well against United in the FA Cup earlier this season. However, they could very well miss out and so instead, I would like to see how Brentford play and while they are the most prolific and best defensive side in the Championship, it would be a big step to see if they could survive the Premier League stage.
Q. What have you made of Palace this season?
I think the main thing about Palace has been the lack of goals in the side. Zaha has not had the best of seasons and has his lowest goal return for Palace since his debut season in 2014/15. His goals were crucial last season and seems fazed by the failure to secure a move to Arsenal or Bayern Munich, both seeming unlikely now. Sorloth has scored 29 goals on loan at Trabzonspor which is one less than Palace as a club and I would expect him to come into the side for next season and prove his worth. Ayew has done well but Palace did need more from the other attacking players throughout the season. Palace have had great games against United, Arsenal and City but overall I would have expected them to push for a top half finish which, while only eight points away, would be a challenge.
Q. Name one player from each side that will be the ones to watch in this fixture?
I will always be looking towards Bruno Fernandes to drive United’s performances nowadays but I would also like Martial and Rashford to exorcise some demons against Palace because they have yet to score against the Eagles in their careers.
As for Palace, I always look to Zaha as he is Palace’s best player on his day. The goal against Chelsea was magnificent and he had much more confidence after the goal but Hodgson says he is still rusty after losing to Villa. Palace will look to him to deliver the goods at Selhurst Park against his former club and put that awful incident behind him.
Q. Your prediction?
I have to say, the fact that there are no fans around is a massive boost for United because Selhurst Park is one of the best stadiums for atmosphere in the Premier League. I think defensively, Palace do have mistakes in them and Cahill is a massive loss, he is such a professional and smart defender. I do expect United to win as I would in any match they play but I don’t think it will be an easy win: 2-1 to United.