LONDON — Manchester United beat Crystal Palace 2-1 at Selhurst Park on Wednesday as their stars shone.
[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]
[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]
Here’s what we learned from a slow-burner in south London as Palace remain in relegation trouble.
STARS SHINE FOR UNITED
This is why you pay them the big bucks. Pogba and Ibrhahimovic were the difference in this game and Pogba was particularly sublime in midfield.
He set up Wayne Rooney with a wonderful dinked pass in the first half and then right on the stroke of half time he finished off a cheeky chest down from Zlatan (which appeared to come off his arm) to put United 1-0 up.
Pogba then provide the game-winning assist with two minutes to play as he slotted in Zlatan but the Swedish striker still had plenty to do as he dinked home across goal to make it 2-1.
Jose Mourinho hailed Ibra after the game, saying he never questioned his character and his quality.
With Zlatan now scoring 14 goals in 24 games since arriving in England, plus Pogba putting in a man of the match display, United are figuring this thing out. Sure, they’re still six points off the top four but you can’t argue with Mourinho when he says their performances have been a lot better for a long time.
Now, United is finally get the results their performances deserve. That has a lot to do with Zlatan and Pogba stepping up to show their star quality when it mattered most.
KEY DECISIONS INCORRECT
There were four pivotal moments in this game which referee Craig Pawson got wrong. Very wrong.
After the game Palace’s manager Alan Pardew felt hard done by and Mourinho didn’t want to say anything apart from applaud Pawson. Would he have been doing that had United not grabbed the late winner their dominance deserved? Probably not.
Anyway, for United’s first goal, right on half time, Zlatan looked to have handled and Pogba was offside as he finished. Pawson needed help from his assistants but the referee didn’t get any. He did get plenty of stick from the home fans in the first half as he let tough tackles go from United.
That brings us to the second incident: Marcos Rojo‘s lunging tackle.
Now, Mourinho may say he is “playing phenomenally and is a very clean player” but the evidence suggests otherwise. In United’s 1-1 draw with Everton 10 days ago Rojo was lucky to stay on the pitch after a lunging tackle. He did exactly the same in the first half against Palace as he lunged in with both sets of studs showing on Wilfried Zaha. He should’ve been sent off. Pawson missed it and gave him just a yellow.
Then came two more moments of controversy in the second half as first Joe Ledley blatently handled in the box but no penalty kick was given and then Rojo headed down for Juan Mata to slot home but the offside flag went up.
You can clearly argue all four decisions were wrong and in the end they canceled each other out. Still, not a vintage display from a young, promising referee.
PALACE PUNISHED FOR TIMIDNESS
We know Pardew’s Palace have been struggling for a while, but the way he set his team up spoke volumes of their limitations. They only wanted a draw. Nothing more.
With Mathieu Flamini handed his first start of the season, the Frenchman sat in during the first half and so did the rest of his teammates. Palace barely got out of their own half in the first half which frustrated the home fans and something had to change.
Ledley was brought on at the break which livened up the game and when James McArthur equalized it got interesting for a while. But, yet again, Palace retreated when they were level and United deservedly won.
Heading into the busy festive period Palace now have Chelsea and Arsenal in their next three games. With just 15 points on the board and confidence clearly at an all-time low under Pardew, the Eagles won’t be soaring anywhere other than towards the drop zone as 2016 comes to a close.
It has been a truly dreadful 2016 for the Eagles who have just six wins in the Premier League over the last 12 months. Fresh impetus is needed at Selhurst Park as Wednesday’s lack of belief proved. Is Pardew the man to get the best out of this talented, yet top-heavy, squad?