If you were asked to name two sides in completely contrasting form this season, Manchester United and Crystal Palace would come to mind.
The Red Devils share top spot in the Premier League with rivals City, dropping just two points from their opening six games and easing past the likes of West Ham United and Everton in the process.
Palace’s season, meanwhile, fits the proverbial landslide cliché. The Eagles have had more managerial changes than they have scored league goals. Rock bottom. No points.
The last thing the South Londoners need is a second trip to Manchester in seven days but that’s exactly what they get when they head to Old Trafford on Saturday. Despite defending well for the first 44 minutes, Roy Hodgson’s side were smashed by five goals to nil against Man City last weekend and a similar result will be expected this Saturday, particularly with United’s excellent scoring record this season.
Players to watch
New signing Romelu Lukaku has been in superb form since his move from Everton. The Belgian already has a remarkable 14 goals in 11 appearances this season for club and country in all competitions and has only failed to score in just one Premier League game.
Lukaku has already showed huge improvement under the guidance of Jose Mourinho. Often harshly criticised while with the Toffees for a sometimes lazy approach that regularly saw him under-perform against the top clubs, Lukaku has proved the critics wrong and has evolved into the complete centre forward. A relationship with midfielder Paul Pogba was blossoming prior to the Frenchman’s injury.
While Lukaku has impressed at Old Trafford, on-loan Chelsea youngster Ruben Loftus-Cheek has been the highlight of Palace’s dreadful start to the season. The midfielder impressed on his debut against Huddersfield Town and then against Liverpool but an injury left him sidelined until the one-nil defeat to Southampton two weeks ago.
Loftus-Cheek’s driving runs from midfield have often led to Palace’s best scoring chances and his ability on the ball, coupled with an exceptional range of passing, are akin to a footballer far older than his tender age of 21. An excellent piece of individual skill almost saw him open the scoring at the Etihad last Saturday but he saw his eventual effort cannon back off the post, before dragging another shot wide.
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Anthony Martial is a doubt for United having hobbled off in their midweek Champions League victory against CSKA Moscow. The Frenchman joins Marouane Fellaini, Marcos Rojo, Michael Carrick, Phil Jones, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Pogba as likely absentees.
Marcus Rashford will be expected to start in the left-wing role having been forced to start the 4-1 victory in Russia on the bench. United will most likely line-up in their familiar 4-2-3-1 formation.
Meanwhile, Palace’s increasing injury list grew even longer and they now no longer have a recognised striker after Christian Benteke was ruled out for up to six weeks with a knee ligament issue. The Belgian joins fellow key man Wilfried Zaha in the treatment room, while Connor Wickham is still a few months away from recovering from the ACL injury he suffered last November. Timothy Fosu-Mensah is ineligible as his temporary side face his parent club.
It is likely that Palace will utilise the 4-4-1-1 they used in Manchester last week. Joel Ward will replace Fosu-Mensah at right-back while Bakary Sako could be used as a makeshift centre forward with Loftus-Cheek positioned just behind.