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Manchester United desperate to keep their Champions League hopes on course at a happy hunting ground

Crystal Palace has seen some memorable results for United

Manchester United's manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, right, shakes the hand of Luke Shaw as he leaves the pitch during the match against Southampton on Monday. AP
Manchester United's manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, right, shakes the hand of Luke Shaw as he leaves the pitch during the match against Southampton on Monday. AP

Manchester United return to Selhurst Park on Thursday for a key Premier League game at a venue where they have performed well, winning five and drawing once since Crystal Palace were promoted in 2013.

It is also one of the loudest away ends, with 3,000 fans standing on the shallow rake under the low roof of the Arthur Wait Stand.

From Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba goals in 2016, to Nemanja Matic's winner in 2018 in a 2-3 result, and two from Romelu Lukaku to make it 1-3 last season, those fans have been treated to late triumphs in games played at night under lights.

United also beat Palace in the 2016 FA Cup final while at Old Trafford, United could boast five straight wins until a hapless 0-0 draw with the Eagles in November 2018 which was another nail in Jose Mourinho’s United future – he was sacked within a month. The result, if not the performance, was even worse this season as United lost 2-1 in a game they dominated.

“If you’re positive thinking, little things go for you. If you’re negative, they go against you,” manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer told United We Stand recently.

“Palace at home. You could play that game 100 times and we’d win 99. That was the most freak result of the season, plus we lost Luke [Shaw] and Anthony [Martial]. So after three games there was a lot of negativity about. Everything gets magnified at Man United.”

There is now a lot of positivity around United but the team must win in South London to maintain their chance of finishing in the top four and getting a Champions League spot.

The 96th minute equaliser by Southampton on Monday was a blow and dropped United from third to fifth with three games remaining but, asked by The National about his defence, Solskjaer said: “I think we’ve had a couple of things against teams that show we’re improving all the time.

"We can defend well at times [and] when you say defence I look at the whole XI because we start pressing from the front.

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Manchester United v Southampton ratings

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“There are not many teams that create chances against us because we press high with Marcus [Rashford], Anthony, Mason [Greenwood] and Bruno (Fernandes). And, at the back end of the Southampton game David [de Gea] made a fantastic save.

“Of course we were disappointed to concede a goal in the last seconds but Brandon [Williams] was off, we were playing with 10 men, Southampton had players on who were 7ft tall, and it was a great delivery by [James] Ward-Prowse. I’m very pleased with the development.”

On his two left backs who had to leave the field, Solskjaer said: “Luke Shaw has a swollen ankle. Brandon’s eye was cut. I’m going to give them as much time as possible to get the swelling away to play against Palace.”

Solskjaer is adamant his players are fitter than they have been for years and one, Martial, is fizzing and was the best player on the field in both of the games played at Old Trafford since the restart.

The Parisien, 24, has scored a career best 21 goals – the same as Rashford – so far this term and is deployed as the main central forward in Solskjaer’s favoured 4-2-3-1 formation.

“He’s definitely developing, improving and enjoying his football,” Solskjaer said.

"He’s stepped it up as an individual and more as a team player, and physically. I remember there were talks about our forwards being the least active [in the league] and there were stats flying around but Anthony is now working really hard for the team and is a quality finisher.”

United’s season still hangs in the balance. Finish in the top four or win the Europa League or FA Cup or achieve all three and it would be considered a substantial improvement.

But drop points to Crystal Palace on Thursday and fingers will start to be pointed. At least United travel in form and a good record there, if not their raucous away fans.

Updated: July 15, 2020 05:05 PM

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