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African All Stars

Crystal Palace’s Africans aim to rain on Rangnick’s Old Trafford parade

7:08 PM GMT 04/12/2021
Wilfried Zaha Crystal Palace 2021
Wilfred Zaha has been a protagonist in the Eagles’ recent success at the Theatre of Dreams, and Patrick Vieira will hope for a repeat on Sunday

Almost every observer will be interested in Sunday’s clash between Manchester United and Crystal Palace, with Ralf Rangnick the obvious focus.

The German’s short-term appointment has been accompanied by a wave of understandable fanfare, so much so that there has been a disposition to ignore this weekend’s visitors to Old Trafford.

Patrick Vieira’s men will desire to be potential party-poopers in Manchester, throwing a spanner in the works and further frustrating a home crowd that have seen only three wins on their turf this season.

Thursday’s 3-2 success over Arsenal, witnessed by Rangnick, was the Red Devils’ first Premier League success at Old Trafford in five, a run that saw them humiliated 5-0 by Liverpool and humbled 2-0 by Manchester City.

Having already stunned Pep Guardiola’s side 2-0 this season, interestingly their only away win in 2021/22, the South London side will hope for a repeat performance in the North-West.

They have reason to be confident, owing to recent results at the Theatre of Dreams. Palace are unbeaten on their last three visits to Old Trafford, notably winning in this fixture for two seasons on the trot.

While their 2-1 victory in 2019/20 felt like a classic smash-and-grab, last term’s 3-1 success was deserved and represented vintage Palace under Roy Hodgson.

Central to that triumph was Wilfried Zaha, who kept his composure to make it 2-0 from the spot — after Jordan Ayew had missed the initial attempt, but a retake was required as David De Gea had stepped off his line — and made it 3-1 with six minutes of normal time to play, moments after United halved the deficit.

The obvious caveat to last season’s success was the absence of supporters, yet the Palace attack will back themselves against a Red Devils side that have not kept a home clean sheet in the PL after seven games and are on a 15-game run without a shut-out in all competitions at the Theatre of Dreams.

Be that as it may, Vieira will demand a different sort of showing in an attacking sense after two defeats on the trot in which his forwards failed to sparkle.

Understandably, Zaha is the lightning rod for any criticism sent the Eagles’ way and it was noteworthy that the Frenchman took him off in last week’s defeat by Aston Villa with the London side 1-0 down.

The Palace boss was critical of his side’s second-rate attempts in the final third as well as the little injection of attacking thrust for the majority of their play, a key component of the Ivory Coast attacker’s game.

Zaha was strikingly not involved in any of the side’s 14 shot-creating actions (defined as the two offensive actions directly leading to a shot), only the second time in the league this season which somewhat underscored Vieira’s post-game analysis.

While Tuesday’s 1-0 defeat by Leeds United was a tad improved, the side’s broader issues in the attacking third remained. Christian Benteke’s profligacy did deny the former Man United man his second assist of the season but expected goals of 1.0 pointed to the inadequacy of quality chances at Elland Road.

Of course, it would be unseemly and reactionary to go entirely alarmist after a disappointing couple of results, especially as the Eagles have already shown significant improvement in a short time under Vieira.

Having said that, the visitors have to show something different at Old Trafford if they are to stun an expectant crowd and Zaha will be key to that at his old stomping ground.

Jordan Ayew may still be without a goal in over a year, but his work ethic and tenacity may earn him a start at Old Trafford at Michael Olise’s expense. Indeed, a different selection will be a surprise.

It will be remiss to fail to acknowledge Cheikhou Kouyate, whose midfield shift often goes under the radar at Selhurst Park. The Senegal man sits second for tackles plus interceptions per 90 and averages more blocks per 90 than any colleague in South London.

Only the currently injured James McArthur has recovered possession more times per 90 than the defensive midfielder, and you reckon Kouyate will be busy on Sunday.

Vieira’s men are interestingly getting little mention heading into Rangnick’s bow at Old Trafford. With the pressure all on the Red Devils, the Frenchman will look to his African contingent to put a difficult week behind them and bring the pumped up home support back down to earth.