Matic completes Man United comeback to crush impressive Palace
LONDON -- Three thoughts on Manchester United's 3-2 win vs. Crystal Palace in the Premier League:
1. Man United show fighting spirit
In the last eight days, Manchester United have shown they can fight. A goal down against Chelsea, they came back to win 2-1. In an even deeper hole against Crystal Palace -- all of their own making -- they did it again. The win moves them back into second in the Premier League above Liverpool, who visit Old Trafford on Saturday.
Jose Mourinho can take plenty of credit throwing on substitutes Marcus Rashford, Luke Shaw and Juan Mata to change the game and the win was secured by Nemanja Matic's first goal for the club, one minute into stoppage time, a superb 25-yard effort that flew beyond Wayne Hennessey.
For the first 48 minutes, United were awful. When relegation-threatened Palace scored after 11 minutes, the only surprise was that it had taken so long. The home side had already had plenty of time to send Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof into a panic with hopeful balls into Christian Benteke and Alexander Sorloth, and it was Benteke who created the opener.
After squaring up Smalling on the left, the Belgium international rolled a pass across the edge of the penalty area for Andros Townsend to shoot past David de Gea thanks, in part, to a defection off Lindelof. The Swedish defender, caught turning his back as Townsend went to shoot, will not want to see the replay.
That Mourinho sent out his substitutes to warm up after 20 minutes said everything about the performance, which was poor at both ends. An Alexis Sanchez pass, which hit the advertising hoardings with Antonio Valencia in acres of space, summed it up.
And whatever the United manager said at half-time did not work; just three minutes after the restart, Patrick van Aanholt raced away down the left to react quickest to a sharply taken free kick and calmly finished past de Gea.
It was only then that United started playing. Smalling pulled one back after 55 minutes, heading in Valencia's cross, after which Paul Pogba forced Hennessey into a save and Matic had a shot cleared off the line by Benteke. Fifteen minutes from full-time, they finally found a way through.
After Sanchez's effort looped against the bar, Romelu Lukaku engineered a yard of space to steer in the equaliser, his eighth goal in his last 11 games. It provided the platform for Matic to score from 25 yards and send the United fans into a bouncing mass in the corner of the stadium.
2. Comeback must be admired but issues remain
It was not a performance to show that United are capable of bridging the gap with Manchester City next season, but the fans who danced their way out of Selhurst Park will not care.
There have been enough seasons since Sir Alex Ferguson retired when comebacks like this were not possible. Indeed, not since a 3-2 win at Hull on Boxing Day 2013 have United won in the league after going 2-0 down.
So there is also something to admire in the spirit United showed. With the title long gone and a top-four place all but guaranteed, it would have been easy to let this game slip by after falling two down. That they did not shows that they feel there is still plenty left to play for this season.
But despite the euphoria of victory, there are plenty of problems for Mourinho to address. Most notable is why his team has not got noticeably better since the arrival of Sanchez and why Pogba is still struggling to make the most of his fantastic talent on a regular basis.
3. Palace have enough to stay up
Given that Crystal Palace started the season with seven straight defeats, it is remarkable that they are even in contention to beat relegation. That they will now fancy their chances of playing Premier League football next season is testament to the job Roy Hodgson has done at Selhurst Park.
Palace's fate this season will be decided by their last six games, in which they meet Bournemouth, Brighton, Watford, Leicester, Stoke and West Brom. It is a run-in that offers the opportunity to pick up enough points to reach the magical 40. They will not fear any of those games after this performance against United and will relish facing Liverpool, the next visitors to Selhurst Park on March 31.
Hodgson will be disappointed that his team surrendered a two-goal lead, especially after dominating for so long. But he is experienced enough to know that relegation scraps are not defined by games against teams at the top.
With Wilfried Zaha -- by far Palace's best player -- expected back from injury soon, there is every reason to suggest they will host United again next season.
Rob is ESPN FC's Manchester United correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @RobDawsonESPN.