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