Juan Mata came off the substitute’s bench to score and earn Manchester United their first Premier League win in four games. The Spaniard’s strike was enough to see off Crystal Palace and hand Louis Van Gaal his fourth win of the season. United were far from their best but claiming all three points was imperative after the disappointment of the derby last weekend.
The suspension of Chris Smalling and injury to Marcos Rojo meant that Van Gaal had to field his 8th centre back pairing of the season with Paddy McNair lining up alongside Daley Blind. Michael Carrick came into the midfield in the only other change from last Sunday. Adnan Januzaj, starting his fourth consecutive game, flashed an early effort over the bar in what would be an afternoon to forget for the Belgian winger. While United controlled proceedings, they offered little threat going forward and their best chance of the first half came from an unlikely source. Luke Shaw picked up the ball in his own half and went on a surging direct run into the Crystal Palace penalty area, his low shot saved by Speroni. Palace were handed their best opportunity of the game when hesitation between the make shift duo of McNair and Blind allowed Frazier Campbell in on goal, but the former United man could only lift his effort over the bar.
United continued to struggle to find any attacking rhythm in the second half with their best chance coming from a set piece. Rooney’s outswinging corner found Fellaini who saw his header cleared off the line from James McArthur. The front four of Van Persie, DiMaria, Rooney and Januzaj looked pedestrian and something needed to change. Van Gaal took off Januzaj and introduced Mata on the hour mark hoping his craft could unlock the Palace defence. It was Mata who provided the breakthrough within three minutes of coming on. After exchanging passes with DiMaria on the edge of the area, his shot fired past Speroni with the aid of a deflection. While Mata struggled to impose himself during the suspension of Rooney, that’s now 9 goals in 15 Premier League matches for the former Chelsea man. Mata almost doubled the hosts lead before the end, his left footed volley striking the post with Van Persie unable to convert the rebound.
The result handed Van Gaal only his second clean sheet of the season, but while much has been written of their defensive frailties, their ineffectiveness upfront must now be a concern. Robin Van Persie is really struggling for form and looks a shadow of his former self. One would have to think that had Radamel Falcao been fit, Van Persie would have been dropped by now. A return to winning ways was crucial ahead of the international break, following which Van Gaal will head to the Emirates looking for his first away win.