Manchester United show familiar failings in defeat to Crystal Palace
MANCHESTER, England -- Soft goals conceded, David De Gea mistakes and losing games they should not; for Manchester United, Saturday's defeat to Crystal Palace had a feeling of last season about it, rather than a bold new era under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
There was enough in the first two games of the season, which brought victory against Chelsea and a draw at Wolves, to suggest things were moving in the right direction. However, this 2-1 reverse -- their first against Palace for 28 years -- was a reality check for home fans.
Many streamed out after Patrick van Aanholt's stoppage-time winner, no doubt feeling they had seen it all before; United conceded two poor goals, and at the other end, a lack of creativity restricted the hosts to just three shots on target.
They are the same problems that contributed to a run of eight defeats from 12 games at the end of last season, which followed wins in 14 of Solskjaer's first 17 games in charge. There's a sense that fans are waiting to find out which version of this team is the truth: Will the real Manchester United please stand up?
Solskjaer was quick to say after this latest setback that his team are two converted penalties away from sitting at the top of the Premier League table with nine points from nine, but that ignores obvious problems.
United are short of creative options in midfield and prolific scorers up front, and this is unlikely to be the last time this season a team visits Old Trafford to defend deep and attack on the break. Neil Warnock pulled it off with relegated Cardiff on the final day of last season and his fellow septuagenarian Roy Hodgson oversaw a similar display as previously winless Palace played things perfectly.
Not that they were without help, for United seemed determined to shoot themselves in the foot. The first goal came from a simple punt up field: Jeffrey Schlupp flicked on after outjumping Victor Lindelof, and Jordan Ayew took advantage of Harry Maguire's poor positioning to roll his finish past De Gea.
If that was bad, Palace's winner was even worse. After United finally found an equaliser in the 89th minute through Daniel James' excellent curling finish, Paul Pogba gave the ball away in midfield and the subsequent breakaway led to Van Aanholt rifling a shot that should have been saved at his near post by De Gea, but instead squirmed into the net.
The goalkeeper's form became a problem during that dire run at the end of last season and Solskjaer will hope De Gea's latest gaffe is a one-off, rather than a sign of things to come. After all, the manager has enough on his plate without having to worry about changing his goalkeeper, specifically what is happening at the other end of the pitch.
United had 77% possession on a warm, sunny day, but could muster fewer than a handful of shots on goal. And this was not a defeat that was down to heroics from the visiting goalkeeper because Vicente Guaita barely had a save to make. Indeed, he was not even stretched by United's latest penalty woes; Marcus Rashford stepped up ahead of Pogba, only to see his spot kick hit the post.
Luck, so often with United last season, deserted them again, but Solskjaer's men also ran out of ideas, having realised it was not possible to counter attack against a team defending so deep. It was entirely predictable, some might argue, and highlighted yet again that, while Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka solidify the defence, there is a lack of invention further forward and the attacking options are weaker after the departure of Romelu Lukaku.
The now-Inter striker split opinion among supporters, but he averaged a goal every two games and no other player boasts a similar ratio. When Solskjaer turned to his bench in the second half on Saturday, he could only throw on 17-year-old Mason Greenwood.
It is positive that the club has so much faith in such a young player and Greenwood does have enormous potential, but it is a lot to expect a teenager without a competitive senior goal to change a game. He will eventually, but not yet.
Defeat to Crystal Palace is not a disaster -- it is only the third week of the season, after all -- but it did show the problems that remain. One former United player was heard telling a group of fans "we are crap" as he left the stadium on Saturday evening. While the situation is not quite that bad, the hangover of last season is still causing Solskjaer a headache.