‘Fighter’ Fel­laini leads charge as United pile on pain for Palace

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Sport | Premier League - By James Ducker

Still with­out a goal, let alone a point, and never look­ing close to be claim­ing ei­ther at Old Traf­ford, the wor­ry­ing thing for Crys­tal Palace is that their predica­ment could get a lot worse be­fore it gets any bet­ter.

Chelsea are their next op­po­nents, and while the in­ter­na­tional break might give man­ager Roy Hodg­son some wel­come pause for thought, Palace will have no hope against the Pre­mier League cham­pi­ons if they prove as anaemic as they were here against a com­pletely dom­i­nant Manch­ester United. It was boys against men – very large, very hun­gry men.

Wayne Hen­nessey might have hoped he would deny Jose Mour­inho’s ram­pant side from run­ning up their sixth four-goal haul in 11 matches when he made an ex­cel­lent save to frus­trate sub­sti­tute An­thony Mar­tial 10 min­utes from time. But the Palace goal­keeper’s net was breached for a fourth time soon after when Bel­gium striker Romelu Lukaku con­verted Mar­tial’s cross for his 15th goal in 12 matches for club and country this season. That added some ex­tra gloss to the score­line after two goals from the tow­er­ing Marouane Fel­laini, fol­lowed Juan Mata’s early opener which had put United firmly on course for their sixth win in seven league games.

For now, Palace will just be thank­ful they do not have to re­turn to Manch­ester in the com­pe­ti­tion again this term, hav­ing been thumped 5-0 by City a week ear­lier.

Whether they will be back here next season is hard to say.

Yes, Palace were se­verely weak­ened, with Chris­tian Ben­teke, Wil­fried Zaha, Scott Dann and Ruben Lof­tus-Cheek among the ab­sen­tees, but even with them Hodg­son will still have his work cut out.

“At the mo­ment, we fear we’re the boxer who is fight­ing in the wrong weight class he is not able to han­dle,” he said.

“We are going to take the blows to the chin and get knocked down, but I don’t think we stayed on the can­vas, I think we tried to get back up.

“These two [United and City] are get­ting good re­sults against al­most ev­ery­one they play against, so if we can keep the play­ers pos­i­tive and stop them doubt­ing them­selves too much, you never know. We could look back on this ter­ri­ble patch at the end of the season and say it helped us build the char­ac­ter to stay in the league.”

Palace did not even give them­selves a chance. With con­fi­dence so low, it was im­per­a­tive they at least got a foothold in the game, but all that work on the train­ing ground this week was un­done in­side two and a half min­utes when Mata claimed an­other early United goal.

Palace are not exactly on the small side, but they could not live with United’s sheer phys­i­cal­ity. United were the team play­ing the football.

However, it must be de­flat­ing for rugged op­po­nents such as Palace that they are not just at a se­ri­ous tech­ni­cal and men­tal dis­ad­van­tage here but a phys­i­cal one, too. United’s sec­ond and third goals, both scored by Fel­laini, de­rived from ex­cel­lent balls swung into Palace’s penalty area where a mob of man-moun­tains were wait­ing to gorge them­selves.

But it was the same story at the op­po­site end of the pitch when United had to de­fend the odd cor­ner. Lin­ing up to head the ball clear were Fel­laini, Ne­manja Matic, Chris Smalling, Lukaku and Phil Jones, all of them im­pos­ing fig­ures.

Ma­madou Sakho did win one of those du­els, head­ing over from six yards out, but United barely give an inch in those aerial bat­tles. This side will not be bul­lied.

They can play, too. Just ask Joel Ward. The Palace right-back was turned in­side out by Mar­cus Rash­ford in the lead-up to United’s open­ing goal, the Eng­land striker skip­ping away to the left by­line be­fore pass­ing to Mata to score. It looked a long way back for Palace at that mo­ment, and so it would prove. Mour­inho con­firmed on Fri­day that Paul Pogba’s in­jury was “longterm”, but Fel­laini is rev­el­ling in the French­man’s ab­sence.

The Bel­gian and Matic dom­i­nated Palace’s five-man mid­field, and behind them Jones ex­uded author­ity and com­po­sure in de­fence. Fel­laini is not al­ways the eas­i­est on the eye, but he is very ef­fec­tive. He also likes get­ting on the end of crosses from Ash­ley Young, who is start­ing to make the left-back slot his own. Young’s ball for United’s sec­ond goal was a peach, whip­ping a cross to the far post, where Fel­laini steered home a con­trolled vol­ley.

Game over? It most cer­tainly was when United got their third, win­ning a free-kick on the left edge of Palace’s penalty box. Rash­ford stepped up and swung in a ven­omous ball straight on to the head of Fel­laini to score.

“Marouane is a fighter, a guy with lots of pride. I am re­ally pleased I have helped him to reach this level and change the per­cep­tion the fans have of him,” said Mour­inho.

“He is a strong char­ac­ter who re­sisted the dif­fi­cul­ties here.”

Air strike: Marouane Fel­laini rises to score Manch­ester United’s sec­ond goal, and the first of his two, in the drub­bing of Crys­tal Palace

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.