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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Jose Mourinho's challenge getting Manchester United players to play for him after draw against Crystal Palace

Third of way into season and United are closer to relegation positions than leaders Manchester City, who are now 14 points clear

Manchester United players Alexis Sanchez, Anthony Martial and Marouane Fellaini are visibly disappointed after their draw against Crystal Palace on Saturday. Getty Images
Manchester United players Alexis Sanchez, Anthony Martial and Marouane Fellaini are visibly disappointed after their draw against Crystal Palace on Saturday. Getty Images

Stephen Browett, one of the four men who plucked Crystal Palace from administration in 2010, walked towards Old Trafford before his team’s Premier League game.

“I haven’t seen Palace score a single goal in our last 10 visits to either Manchester club,” the popular director said, as he wrapped his scarf tight against Manchester’s November chill.

Given that 16th-placed Palace had won only two of their opening 12 league games, had not won since mid-September and scored just eight goals, there was hardly much reason for optimism.

But Old Trafford is not the fortress it was. Teams do not fear a trip to England’s biggest stadium like they used to.

United have scored only eight goals at home and conceded eight. Manchester City have scored 27 at home. It is barely fair to compare the two teams at present.

But what about the rest? Only six Premier League teams have scored fewer goals at home than United.

A third of the way into an entirely uninspiring first half where United started brightly but faded as quickly as the winter sun, it was Palace who had the best chance. Former United player Wilfried Zaha flicked a ball over Victor Lindelof to start an attack which led to Patrick van Aanholt shooting wide.

At the other end, Juan Mata, making his 200th appearance for the club, hit a free-kick across the goal in the 28th minute, which Chris Smalling headed wide. A Jesse Lingard side foot shot and an Anthony Martial header a minute later raised Old Trafford from its slumber.

But it was the 3,000 Crystal Palace fans who were celebrating what they thought was a goal after 43 minutes when Cheikhou Kouyate headed the ball past David de Gea, but it was offside.

Romelu Lukaku did have the ball in the Palace net on 56 minutes after Wayne Hennessey could only parry an Ashley Young shot. Lukaku celebrated, but the offside flag was again raised at the Stretford End.

It was Palace, though, who should have gone ahead. If they had not lacked confidence in front of goal they might have done that, with Kouyate again threatening just after Marouane Fellaini had been brought on for Lingard and Marcus Rashford for Mata. Alexis Sanchez would follow soon after in the 66th minute when he replaced the insipid Paul Pogba.

Jose Mourinho had to ring the changes as his side laboured.

With desperation creeping in, Ashley Young slid into two tackles, surged forward and brought Sanchez into the attack. He passed the ball to Rashford, who fell over.

United were not dominant. They were not even the best team. Mourinho was frustrated that his side let Palace breathe when they did not have the ball. He thought United had wasted 30 minutes in total by letting Palace breath.

And Palace had plenty of the ball.

Andros Townsend shot wide on 74 minutes after beating two defenders. Sanchez did add some spark to United’s attack and set up Martial, and the lively Rashford had a late half chance, but it was all half baked.

As Mourinho waved his arms in frustration, a board went up showing four minutes left. Old Trafford had already started to empty.

A third of the way into the season and United are closer to the relegation positions than leaders City, who are now 14 points clear. It is the team’s worst start to a season for 28 years.

Browett did not see his side get a goal, but they achieved a creditable draw. It was the minimum they deserved and their fans were singing ‘Glad all over’ at the final whistle.

United’s fans felt anything but, and there was little show of support for Mourinho either as he walked towards the dressing room, his side having failed to score at home for the fourth time in nine games this season.

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Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho will need to rally his players after what has been a poor season. Getty Images
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho will need to rally his players after what has been a poor season. Getty Images

“A bad result,” was the manager’s verdict. “No chance this is one point we are winning. It is two points we lose – and Palace deserve their credit. They come for this, they fought for it and they got it.

"But we should blame ourselves for the result," he added. "We did the most difficult things apart from score, we found the space against a team which plays very well close together. But there was not enough intensity or desire.

"We played like it was one more game but it was not one more game. It was a game we really needed to win. There was not enough from the heart.”

Young Boys Bern are next up for United. Mourinho does not think his team will win if they play like this again. His greatest challenge is getting his players to play for him and to stop the antipathy that is now entrenched among United fans.

What they have seen this season has not been close to good enough.