Manchester United will travel to Selhurst Park on Saturday to face a much stronger Crystal Palace side than the one that lost the reverse fixture 1-0 in November last year. The South London outfit have experienced a huge turnaround in fortunes under former player Alan Pardew and find themselves sitting in 12th place in the Premier League.
At the start of the campaign it looked increasingly likely that Palace would go down. Under Neil Warnock, their playing style wasn’t working, the players didn’t look happy and their confidence was low. However, since Alan Pardew stepped in, things have gone from strength to strength.
Meanwhile, United simply cannot afford to do anything but win the game. With three fixtures left, including a particularly tricky tie at home to Arsenal, United must strengthen their grip on the top four and show that that the poor display against West Bromwich Albion was nothing but a bad day at the office.
Ashley Young is experiencing a minor dip in form, so Angel Di Maria may be confident of making his first start in eight Premier League games. He is going through a rough year but United fans have seen glimpses of how the Argentine’s pace and flair can put opposition defences to the sword.
Van Gaal must also consider how to deal with the absence of Michael Carrick, who has been key in dictating United’s play as well as converting possession into goalscoring opportunities for his team-mates. United have struggled without his presence in the last three games and Louis van Gaal will no doubt be thinking of a way to fill the void left by the veteran midfielder.
Luke Shaw and Jonny Evans will both be available which will give Van Gaal some more defensive options.
Van Gaal may also have 19-year-old Andreas Pereira in mind when it comes to deciding his team. Van Gaal recently described him as having “all the attributes to become an integral part of the first team” and the Dutchman may look to throw the youngster in at the deep end to see how he fares against Palace. It would be a bold move considering Pereira’s inexperience but he has shown he isn’t afraid to give young players a chance. Look at Paddy McNair, James Wilson and Tyler Blackett.
However, with the race for the top four hotting up again, questions might be asked as to whether this is the time to start experimenting with young players. Whatever Louis van Gaal does, he must ensure that come Saturday evening, his team are celebrating the three points. If not, Liverpool will grow more and more confident of usurping United to fourth place in the table.