Manchester United vs Crystal Palace match report: Juan Mata moment of magic ends United’s drought

Manchester United 1 Crystal Palace 0: Spanish substitute’s strike seals first win in four games for Van Gaal’s men

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The Independent Online

It was not the most joyful of games at Old Trafford, but it at least lifted Louis van Gaal’s spirits. Having said on Friday that he felt “lousy” about Manchester United’s recent poor form, the Dutch manager declared himself “happy” after this largely humdrum win over Crystal Palace.

It was not the only feeling to make a welcome return at United. For a start, there was Juan Mata finally feeling like a player of value again, as he proved himself the match-winner. The Spaniard’s 67th-minute goal ended a long period of frustration to give United their first victory in four games and – remarkably – the first 1-0 victory of the Louis van Gaal regime. That also meant a first clean sheet in six, and just the Dutchman’s second while in charge.

This victory over Crystal Palace was, in short, a welcome return to the routine for United.

A significant factor of their recent problems has been down to the fact there has been no consistency in defence, with Van Gaal having to put out what was his eighth centre-half line-up in just 11 League games, as Daley Blind played there with Paddy McNair. They managed to hold things together, thanks in part to the calming influence of the returned Michael Carrick.

The one worry from the win was that the home side were also a little too calm, if not outright pedestrian, up front. Van Gaal may have temporarily solved issues at one end, only to experience new problems at the other.

He at least was not worried about that in the immediate aftermath of the game, and instead praised his side’s “patience”. He also accused Palace of trying only to defend, which was not strictly true.

“I’m happy. We have three points. We are now two points behind fourth place, I believe, so it’s in our hands,” Van Gaal said. “I think we played the first half reasonably well. We had patience, we played the ball. We need more speed, more switches.”

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Mata fires in a 25-yard strike that took a deflection

That is certainly true. There was simply no vibrancy to their first-half attacking, with the only real threat coming through a burst forward from Luke Shaw.

United were almost caught at the other end, too, when Blind and McNair suffered a mix-up that let in Fraizier Campbell. His strike sailed over the bar, but it is the sort of error that comes from so much change at the back.

United needed a change of pace at the other end. Wayne Rooney was unable to find his range, Robin van Persie could not find his touch and Angel Di Maria failed to find any rhythm.

Meanwhile the underperforming Adnan Januzaj could not manage to find a red shirt with his passes, which is why it was no surprise when the Belgian winger was the one to make way for Mata after 63 minutes.

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Robin van Persie failed to find the target again

Within another three minutes, Mata had found the net. The Spaniard played a quick exchange with Angel Di Maria on the edge of the opposition box before firing past Julian Speroni thanks to a deflection. Neil Warnock, Palace’s manager described the move as “a bit of magic”, but couldn’t help lamenting the fact that Mata’s shot might have been saved.

“Julian will be disappointed,” Warnock said. He was also disappointed that Palace did not do more to take their own opportunities when they presented themselves.

“I think that’s the best opportunity I’ve had to beat United, the run they’re going on. I think the best chance of the game was with Fraizer Campbell. I said if we could get in front, the crowd would be restless.

“I think the thing that let us down was ourselves. We had so many opportunities to pass the ball in good areas, without any pressure from Man United players.

“That’s the biggest disappointment, we didn’t create more from what we had.”

Van Gaal was at least able to enthuse that United themselves created more after Mata’s goal, and Van Persie could well have made it 2-0 when he hit the post late on.

The miss, however, was not going to spoil Van Gaal’s mood.

Line-ups:

Manchester United (4-4-2): De Gea; Valencia, McNair (Fletcher, 90), Blind, Shaw; Januzaj (Mata, 63), Fellaini, Carrick, Di Maria (Wilson, 71); Rooney, Van Persie.

Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Speroni; Mariappa, Dann, Delaney, Ward; Puncheon, Ledley, McArthur, Bolasie (Gayle, 81); Campbell (Doyle, 90), Chamakh (Bannan, 81).

Referee: Chris Foy.

Man of the match: Mata (Man Utd)

Match rating: 6/10

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