As Juan Mata poignantly pointed out in his regular blog piece on Monday, the trip to Dubai wasn’t necessarily the rigorous warm weather training camp many expected, but instead a break to “recharge the batteries for the final stage”. While one would not define the break away as an all-out holiday, it was a chance to “help make the group even stronger and to switch off a bit from the different competitions”. It was most certainly, not just a welcome distraction form the miserable Manchester weather, but also the mundane atmosphere that has engulfed the red nine, tenths of the city.
With perpetual talk of highly intensive training sessions, extremely unhappy players and a poor run of form that substantiates the former, perhaps the more relaxed environment that characterised the trip was a not just a welcome respite from unceasing criticism, but could also provide the type of epiphany like turning point that often personifies a Hollywood blockbuster sports movie. After all these films depict real life, don’t they? In a manner much more consistent with hope rather than substance, it is with childlike innocence that I imagine everyone airing their grievances over a couple of beers with discussion ultimately ending in awe-inspiring, goose-bump raising, Pacinoesque speech from none other than Moyes himself. Some sort of rallying cry that will go on to become the catalyst for an almighty push four fourth – here’s hoping anyway!
If truth be told, for the first time in my life I too was looking forward to a break, a kind of getaway, a weekend off of United. Taking into account that the pinnacle of my week is often the much-anticipated match, I suppose such a statement best sums up our current plight. It wasn’t so much that I was looking forward to a weekend without United but more so the inevitable disappointment and ensuing argument that more often than not precedes. Twitter becomes a dark place on the back of poor performances and the excuses for my backing of Moyes are beginning to wear thin. Having said that, I to have “recharged the batteries” I just hope the players are as enthusiastic as me.
Now or Never
United, on the back of a miserable run of form, must now make an all guns blazing final push for that much coveted top four spot. With even the most optimistic of people having scant hope of making it and with Liverpool eleven points clear and looking good for their money, we must “believe” that it’s still a slight possibility, as unlikely as it may be. Today it was announced that United will play two extra games against Inter and AC on their pre-season tour of the US. While nothing out of the ordinary, it is worth noting that these games fall on the dates of 26th and 29th of July, the Europa League Qualifiers is on the 31st. Make of that what you will but all the noises coming out of Old Trafford is that it is Champions League or nothing, no Europa in between.
Having earned a respectable draw against Arsenal at the Emirates on the back of a bitterly disappointing defeat away to Stoke and an equally unimpressive draw at home to Fulham, it really is a case of now or never. If any positive is to come form this so far disastrous season, it must emanate from a very progressive run of results and performances that will at least leave us fighting for fourth come Sunday May the 11th.
While the influx of injuries that have ravished the squad for the majority of the season thus far are somewhat subsiding, questions marks still remain over the fitness of Rafael, Evans and Jones who did not travel with the squad to Dubai. Nani, another who did not travel is definitely out with a hamstring injury. On a positive note Rooney and Van Persie will start together for the fourth successive game and as the stats say, when both play we are very rarely defeated. Mata should be more accustomed to his new teammates and a big performance is widely expectd of him while Fellaini should make his highly anticipated return having been out since early December with a wrist injury. Having been prematurely written off as a big money flop, it must be reminded that he has in fact, only made four Premier League starts for United.
Pulis’ Palace Revival
United take on a much rejuvenated Palace side whom under the stewardship of Tony Pulis have defied both critics and pundits. Many people’s favourites to go down, as they languished at the bottom of the table mid November, Palace have since seen an unprecedented upturn in performances. While relegation was looking inevitable, the points difference was far from insurmountable as teams around them began to struggle, and the shrewd appointment of Pulis was undoubtedly the catalyst behind such resurgence. Prior to Pulis’ appointment Palace had taken a measly four points from eleven games, it was this disappointing run of form that ultimately culminated in the sacking of fans favourite Ian Holloway.
However, since Pulis’ appointment Palace have collected 22 points from a possible 42 whilst simultaneously climbing from the foot of the table to fifteenth. The initial discontent at the appointment of Pulis was based on his much maligned style of play with former club Stoke, were tactics were often robust, vigorous and uneasy on the eye. While Palace have become much more organised defensively – in his first eleven games they had conceded eleven less goals than his predecessor in the same amount of games – it is fair to say that they are not as uncompromising nor as forceful as his Stoke side. Having held Everton to a goalless draw and been unlucky not to get anything at the Etihad, Palace will be a highly organised unit at Selhurst Park on Saturday.
Palace have a fully fit squad to choose from, that is assuming Jerome Thomas, as expected recovers from a slight knock and they will be buoyed by the fact that not only do they come into the game with an extended rest, having had their last game called off against Everton due to the adverse weather conditions but also due to the fact that they are currently on a great run of form, having won three of the last four Premier League games.
Not Another Record
The most damning stat of the Moyes reign thus far, and we all know he has a few humdingers, may actually be that since Pulis’ appointment in November, Palace have actually picked up more points than United in that period of time. While United have collected a total of twenty-one points, Palace have picked up twenty-two, having played the same number of games.
Most definitely aware of the fact that United have never lost to Palace in the Premier League era, surely Moyes isn’t going to add to his ever-increasing list of unwanted records.
A month past the 19th anniversary of The Kings infamous Kung Fu kick on a Palace fan Matthew Simmons at Selhurst Park, all that we can hope for is that we go out there and show the same agility, attacking intent and fight that Eric exhibited that day in 1995, albeit in a different context of course!