Manchester United warmed up for their FA Cup semi-final meeting with Everton on Saturday afternoon with a routine 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace. Against the backdrop of a large amount of empty seats, signalling the growing fan unrest with manager Louis van Gaal and the quality of the football United have offered this term, the Dutchman’s side kept themselves in the running for a top four Premier League finish and find themselves a point behind fourth placed Arsenal, who play West Bromwich Albion tomorrow.
Despite the reduced crowd, something almost unheard of at Old Trafford in a Premier League fixture, United offered a more lively, consistent performance than many fans thought possible under the current regime. Anthony Martial, Juan Mata and Marcus Rashford combined impressively throughout, with far more zip and purpose on show when the home side swarmed forward than was offered on Saturday during a lifeless 1-0 victory over Aston Villa.
Surprisingly, given the scoring exploits of both Martial and Rashford this season, it was Matteo Darmian, slotting in at left back who provided an assist and impressive strike for United’s two goals. The first had a gigantic slice of fortune, with Damien Delaney inexplicably slicing the Italian’s low cross beyond Palace goalkeeper Julian Speroni into his own net inside the 4th minute. The second was far more satisfying, with Darmian chesting the ball down from a corner and driving a powerful strike in off the post before the hour mark.
In truth, this was neither an indication of a true change of tact for Van Gaal nor a dreary evening’s work; it sat somewhere in the middle, with Palace rarely threatening and United again failing to make a scoreline more convincing against a lackadaisical opponent. Still, Darmian’s first goal for the club and a useful workout ahead of Saturday’s trip to Wembley made it an evening to enjoy, if not savour.