Manchester United welcome Crystal Palace to Old Trafford at today’s 3 PM kickoff in a rehash of their Carabao Cup fixture.
Roy Hodgson’s men will be looking to avoid a repeat of that result, where United didn’t look like they stepped out of 2nd gear and easily dispatched the Eagles.
Erik ten Hag will have taken a lot of confidence from that display and will be hoping to build on that as he tries to get United’s season in the league back on track.
Despite being the same fixture, United can face a tougher test under the bright lights of the Premier League instead of the less-fancied League Cup.
Here are the top three key battles that will decide the fate of the game in this tactical preview-
Jean-Philippe Mateta vs Raphael Varane
Roy Hodgson confirmed in his pre-match press conference that first-choice striker Odsonne Edouard will miss this game due to a thigh injury.
It is a huge boost to United’s chances as Edouard is an instinctive striker who doesn’t need a second invitation to get a shot away in and around the box. In his absence, Mateta led the line in the Carabao Cup game and was nullified successfully by Varane and Co.
United’s defence will have to repeat that trick here because Mateta will be driven to make amends for the League Cup performance.
Add to that the absence of Lisandro Martinez again, and Palace’s attack, especially Eberechi Eze, might fancy running at the slower of the two defenders in Harry Maguire/Jonny Evans/Victor Lindelof.
Jordan Ayew vs Sofyan Amrabat
When Amrabat joined United, he wouldn’t have expected that his first two appearances for the club would be at left-back. However, such has been the injury crisis at the club that it is the situation he finds himself in.
The Moroccan acquitted himself superbly on his debut, playing centre-midfield in all but name as he regularly drifted infield from full-back position to outnumber Palace’s midfield.
A repeat performance here will ensure United run away with three points but Ayew will be determined to overload that flank in conjunction with Joel Ward.
If Hodgson is feeling adventurous and wants to target Amrabat particularly, he might even field Eze as the right-sided midfielder in a midfield three.
Marcus Rashford will need to shake off his defensive apathy and track back diligently to help Amrabat. The battle on United’s left wing might decide the fate of this game.
Rasmus Hojlund vs Marc Guehi
Rasmus Hojlund’s all-around centre-forward play has been a breath of fresh air at Old Trafford. The Dane looks like he’s willing to break his face to reach the end of balls played into the box.
He immediately made Arsenal defenders uncomfortable on his debut and his first goal for the club against Bayern has him full of confidence.
It is a measure of how important he is already to this team that he was rested in the League Cup tie against Palace.
He is likely to come back for the league game which will pit him up against one of England’s brightest defensive prospects in Marc Guehi.
The Chelsea academy prospect is the full package. He relishes physical duels, can cover the ground quickly, is good with the ball at his feet and has the strength to compete aerially. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that this will be Hojlund’s quintessential “Welcome to the Premier League” test.
A good performance here will send United on their way to victory but perhaps more importantly, announce Hojlund as being ready to lead the line at United.