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Monday, 10 December, 2018

United can keep injury-hit Palace off the scoresheet

Eagles struggling without absent stars

Jesse Lingard and Manchester United celebrate against Chelsea
1 of 1

Premier League
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Manchester United have finished each round of Premier League fixtures in second place since they beat Everton 2-0 on New Year's Day and they can climb back above Liverpool by taking three points against injury-ravaged Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.

Palace slipped into the bottom three on Saturday for the first time since December and if they are going to survive they must get some of their senior players off the treatment table.

The Eagles appeared to be sailing to safety under Roy Hodgson, who presided over one defeat in 12 league games during a two-month spell between mid-November and mid-January.

But they have been dragged back into trouble by a succession of damaging injuries. Ten of their senior performers are crocked, including star man Wilfried Zaha, and they cannot call on Manchester United loanee Timothy Fosu-Mensah against his parent club.

Palace's unavailable 11 – goalkeeper Julian Speroni, defenders Fosu-Mensah, Joel Ward, Mamadou Sakho and Scott Dann, midfielders Yohan Cabaye, Jason Puncheon and Ruben Loftus-Cheek and attackers Bakary Sako, Connor Wickham and Zaha – would be a competitive Premier League side and arguably better and more balanced than the team they will field against United.

Zaha's loss is the the biggest problem. He has been Palace's star attacker in recent seasons and his importance to the side is obvious with Palace taking no points from the eight games he has missed this season.

The Eagles are playing with plenty of spirit and were gutted to concede an 89th-minute Harry Kane header in last Sunday's 1-0 loss at home to Tottenham.

But they had survived up to that point thanks to a combination of last-ditch defending and poor Spurs finishing and will have to offer more to have a realistic chance of beating United.

Hodgson has a little more wriggle room with his selection thanks to Martin Kelly and Jeff Schlupp returning to full training.

Kelly affords Hodgson the leeway to pull inexperienced defender Aaron Wan-Bissaka out of the firing line and Schlupp's return could allow him to revert to his favoured 4-4-2 formation and get more out of Norwegian striker Alexander Sorloth, who worked tirelessly on the left against Spurs but looks better suited to playing through the middle.

Sorloth and Christian Benteke could pose an aerial threat to United but Palace need to get decent service to them and that means getting a better foothold in midfield than they managed against Spurs.

But it is hard to see that happening against United, who have gained confidence from coming from behind to win 2-1 at home to Chelsea last Sunday.

United's midfield balance looked better against the Blues with Nemanja Matic and Scott McTominay doing the defensive work and giving Paul Pogba the extra freedom he craves.

Pogba completed 90 minutes for the first time since January and getting him back to full capacity can only enhance United's chances of achieving their end-of-season aims of second place in the Premier League and mounting a strong challenge for the FA Cup and Champions League.

It was hardly a vintage United display against the Blues but they largely nullified Chelsea's main threats and they should do the same against a limited Palace attack.

They have registered clean sheets in five of their last seven road trips and another can provide the foundation for an eighth away league win of the campaign.

Manchester United to win to nil
2pts 29-20 BoyleSports

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Premier League standings

Team news
Crystal Palace
Goalkeeper Diego Cavalieri joins the squad after signing as a free agent this week. Timothy Fosu-Mensah cannot play against his parent club and Yohan Cabaye, Julian Speroni, Joel Ward, Scott Dann, Mamadou Sakho, Jason Puncheon, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Wilfried Zaha, Bakary Sako and Connor Wickham are injured. Jeff Schlupp and Martin Kelly could feature after returning to full training.

Manchester United
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcos Rojo, Daley Blind and Phil Jones are injury doubts and Marouane Fellaini and Ander Herrera are ruled out.

Key stat
Crystal Palace have kept just two clean sheets in 14 Premier League home games this season.

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Crystal Palace have kept just two clean sheets in 14 Premier League home games this season
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