Man United vs. Crystal Palace
Venue: Old Trafford
Kick off: 5:30PM
Manchester United get their 2020-21 campaign belatedly underway when they welcome Crystal Palace to Old Trafford this afternoon.
Just over a month after their 2019-20 season finished in the Europa League semi-finals, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side are back in competitive action a week later than most teams, including Palace, who began the campaign with a 1-0 win over Southampton.
Even with the additional week afforded to those who reached the latter stages of Europe last season, this is a quick turnaround for a United side whose summer break will have lasted just one month and three days.
The true significance of that may not been known in full until the majority of the season unfolds, but Solskjaer will know that his side needs to hit the ground running immediately.
A third-placed finish last season means that their main goal for the upcoming campaign is to close the gap on the top two of Liverpool and Manchester City, as well as building on an encouraging second half of 2019-20.
Indeed, the Red Devils begin their new season with the longest ongoing unbeaten streak in the Premier League, having ended last term on a 14-game run without defeat which stretches back to January.
The form of the likes of Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Paul Pogba and Mason Greenwood drew particular praise during that time, but there is still a feeling among fans that they need to strengthen more this summer.
The transfer window began with understandable excitement as United were linked with a host of star names – most notably Jadon Sancho – but Donny van de Beek is the only new name through the door in time for the new season.
The Red Devils appear to have missed out on Sergio Reguilon, Gareth Bale and Thiago Alcantara to Premier League rivals, while the Sancho saga rumbles on, and when you throw captain Harry Maguire and Greenwood’s off-field troubles into the mix as well, it has not been an ideal summer for the 20-time champions.
Matters on the pitch could have been better too, with a 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa in their only pre-season contest.
The hosts will be favourites going into Saturday’s match, but they will also be wary of the fact that one of their two home defeats in the league last season came at the hands of this weekend’s opponents.
That memorable Old Trafford triumph is the only time Palace have ever beaten United in the Premier League era, though, so if the Eagles are able to come away with a positive result again on Saturday then it would be an achievement of some significance.
Roy Hodgson will certainly believe that his side can do it; they beat Southampton on the opening day of the season to get off to a winning start, despite the stats suggesting that away specialists Southampton went into the game as favourites.
Star player – and former United winger – Wilfried Zaha is showing signs of getting back to his best after an underwhelming campaign last term, and the club appear to have addressed their lack of goals in 2019-20 by re-signing Michy Batshuayi on loan.
The Chelsea man made his second debut for the Eagles in midweek but drew a blank as Palace were ultimately dumped out of the EFL Cup by Championship side Bournemouth following a remarkable penalty shootout.
The first 20 spot-kicks went in before both keepers missed, and then Luka Milivojevic saw his saved after the order had come full circle as Bournemouth won the shootout 11-10 at the Vitality Stadium.
Palace will have no fears about going back out on the road again, though; they won more away league games last season than both Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal and will fancy their chances of causing United problems on the counter with their quick attackers.
Manchester United possible XI: De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw, Van de Beek, Pogba, James, Fernandes, Rashford, Martial.
Crystal Palace possible XI: Guaita, Ward, Kouyate, Dann, Mitchell, Eze, McCarthy, McArthur, Zaha, Batshuayi, Ayew.