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Wilfried Zaha terrorises Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's defence: 5 talking points as abject Red Devils comfortably beaten

Last updated 1 month ago | By Mirror

Football - Premier League - Manchester United v Crystal Palace - Old Trafford, Manchester, Britain - September 19, 2020. Manchester United's Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay. [Pool via REUTERS/Martin Rickett]

Manchester United crashed to defeat in their Premier League opener, as Crystal Palace won at Old Trafford for the second successive season.

Former United forward Wilfried Zaha scored twice in the second half - one a controversially-awarded, retaken penalty - as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side were comfortably beaten by the Eagles.

Solskjaer's men were abject throughout, playing without pace or fluency.

At half-time they found themselves behind, thanks to Andros Townsend's close range finish and having created little in the way of opportunities themselves.

Zaha deservedly doubled the advantage midway through the second half, scoring from the spot after VAR intervention.

Firstly, Martin Atkinson awarded a penalty for handball against Victor Lindelof after viewing a monitor, but when David de Gea denied Jordan Ayew, the Spaniard was sanctioned for encroachment and Zaha made no mistake.

Donny van de Beek stepped off the bench to score on his debut, but Zaha made the three points safe with a clinical finish late on after proving too strong for Lindelof.

Hodgson's men move to six points from their opening two games, but United will need to do much, much better in their bid to get closer to Liverpool and Manchester City.

A new centre-back might help.

Here are five talking points from Old Trafford...

1. Dan James’ struggles continue

The Welshman was handed a surprise start out wide on the right, with Mason Greenwood only on the substitutes’ bench.

But James, who after an initially bright start looked somewhat overawed towards the end of last season, had little impact.

His struggles to play in little pockets sees him seek to remain out on the touchline - especially when on the right flank.

And young full-back Tyreek Mitchell was comfortable throughout their first-half match-up.

An opportunity not taken.

2. United’s midfield balance off

The one thing that was really impressive about United following Project Restart was the relationship being struck up between Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba.

When United were red hot, that pair, playing close together, were wonderful and had a clear appreciation for one another.

But they didn’t pick up where they left off against Palace.

Pogba, paired with Scott McTominay, was too deep to really influence the game, and the distance between he and the Portuguese simply too largely to dominate Palace. There weren’t enough occasions where they were able to link up, and almost none in the final third.

Perhaps Pogba, after just a week of being back in training, wasn’t as fit as his manager thought? That may well have played a part.

Solskjaer needs to strike the right midfield balance, but this wasn’t quite it.

3. A nightmare for United’s defence

If Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire are going to be Solskjaer’s first-choice pairing and stay there, then they need to improve fast.

Because this was awful. Absolutely awful. From both.

Forget the penalty given against Lindelof. Just disregard it.

The rest of the game, the pair of them were all over the place.

Positioning was dire at various points from both - Maguire was lazy in not covering space on the first goal - they struggled for speed against both Jordan Ayew and Zaha, but continued to put themselves in foot races with the Palace front two.

Their passing out from the back was largely sloppy, and neither was particularly commanding in the air nor in the tackle - witness Lindelof on the third goal.

United have every right to expect better.

Crystal Palace's Wilfried Zaha celebrates scoring their third goal with Cheikhou Kouyate. [Pool via REUTERS/Martin Rickett]

4. Zaha makes his mark

Wilfried Zaha made just four appearances for Manchester United and failed to make his mark at Old Trafford.

On his return this time, he both started up front and wore the captain’s armband for the Eagles.

And he duly put in a match-winning performance.

His penalty was taken with aplomb, his second was fired hard and low and into the bottom corner but more than just his goals he was outstanding.

Not restrained to the left side, he worked all along the line, used his skill and speed to terrorise the United defence, but also showed intelligence to bring others into play and strength to hold possession and get his side up the field.

An excellent all-round display.

5. VARcical

Martin Atkinson’s decision to give a penalty for handball against Lindelof was bad enough.

The decision after De Gea had denied Ayew to order a retake, for encroachment by the ‘keeper, from which Zaha scored, was possibly worse.

"That is an absolute disgrace,” said Gary Neville. “We are talking millimetres. This is unbelievable."

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