Manchester United vs Crystal Palace preview: Young Red Devils to face Eagles at Old Trafford

Manchester United vs Crystal Palace preview: Young Red Devils to face Eagles at Old Trafford

Jose Mourinho is expected to name a youthful line-up against Palace to preserve his senior players who hope to stay for for midweek Europa League final

Sam Smith

The final game of the season sees Manchester United host Crystal Palace just three days before their Europa League final clash against Ajax.

Red Devils boss José Mourinho has pledged to field a weaker team, mainly consisting of academy graduates, to preserve his senior players before they travel to Stockholm to face the Dutch giants.

Meanwhile, Palace boss Sam Allardyce could field a weaker team of his own, with youngsters Luke Dreher and Sullay Kaikai pushing for a place in the match day squad.

The match coincidentally takes place a year to the day since the two side's met in last season FA Cup Final. Man United, under the guidance of Louis van Gaal, won 2-1 thanks to Jesse Lingard's stunning extra-time volley. 

Inconvenient fixture gives Mourinho chance to provide opportunities to club’s young players

The game against Palace is a mere inconvenience for Mourinho and his side. Despite a 24-game unbeaten run, two defeats and a draw in their last three Premier League games means a top four finish is now mathematically impossible.

The Red Devils’ only route into the elite European competition would be to beat Ajax in the Europa League final.

Despite holding a reputation for not giving young players a chance, Mourinho is widely expected to let go of that tag and field several of United’s best prospects. The Portuguese boss confirmed fellow countryman goalkeeper Joel Pereira will start in goal, while Josh Harrop and Zak Dearnley will be involved in the senior squad for the first time. Photos of 16-year-old Angel Gomes training with the senior team have also emerged, sparking rumours that he too could mark his maiden involvement in the first team squad. 

Defender Axel Tuanzebe has started each of the last three games since his debut against Arsenal and is expected to continue having impressed Mourinho. Scott McTominay, another who debuted against the Gunners, is pushing for a first start in a midfield that will also include the more renowned face of Paul Pogba, who was given time off to mourn the passing of his father.

Another more familiar face in the line-up will be Eric Bailly. The defender was sent off in the second leg of United’s Europa League tie against Celta Vigo and will miss the final so will add some experience to the side. The Ivory Coast international could feature in the back line with Timothy Fosu-Mensah and left-back Demi Mitchell, the club's Under-23 Player of the Year.

Eagles able to rest up following Premier League survival

This year has not quite gone to plan for the South Londoners. A promising summer transfer window included signing Christian Benteke, Andros Townsend, James Tomkins and Steve Mandanda and fresh start from their poor league form in 2015/16 seemed inevitable.

However, boss Alan Pardew was sacked before Christmas having won just once in eleven matches. His replacement, Allardyce, initially struggled to turn the Eagles’ fortunes around and carried them into the relegation zone – an embarrassing 4-0 defeat at home to Sunderland even drew calls for the former England manager to be sacked.

Although just over three months on from that disastrous defeat, Palace could remarkably finish as high as eleventh if they beat Man United, Leicester City lose and West Ham United fail to win. Their 4-0 victory against Hull City last weekend lifted them up to 13th and condemned the Tigers to the final relegation spot, joining Middlesbrough and Sunderland in next season’s Championship.