Wednesday 14th December- 20:00 BT Sport 1

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Last season’s FA Cup final, is the subject of the second mid-week game covered by BT Sport, as the beaten finalists Crystal Palace take on Manchester United at Selhurst Park. Palace will be looking to improve on a record against United, that hasn’t seen them beat United in the league since May 1991. Palace have recently steadied the ship, following a run of 6 defeats in a row. They beat Southampton 3-0, and were able to scramble a point against Hull City in the last minute of normal time on Saturday.

But despite this recent improvement in form, the Eagles find themselves just 3 points off the relegation zone. With Alan Pardew’s team having the worst form of any side in the football league in the calendar year. But they are not short of goals, especially on the road. Only Arsenal (18) and Manchester City (19) have scored more goals away from home than Palace, who have netted 16 times on their travels. But in the goals-against column, no one has conceded more than the 19 Pardew’s Eagles have on the road. Their home form hasn’t been much better, and they have only won twice this season at home.

One of the positives of the last 2 games for Palace and Pardew, has been the form of ex-United player Wilfred Zaha.

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Zaha’s goal during Saturday’s game was his third in the league this season, to go alongside his tally of 6 assists. He also had a hand in every goal that Palace scored against Hull, and was far and away the best player on the pitch that day. His performance that day, had his manager calling for him to be called up to the England squad:

““How many English players, offensive players, would have done what he did today? To say that Wilf isn’t good enough to play for England. Come on.”

Pardew is right to say there are few players in the Premier League that possess the same ability to terrorise full-backs, and even fewer who are eligible for the national team. The Hull defence were petrified of Zaha’s pace, power and trickery on Saturday. He has shown all three of these attributes for some time now, but he seems to have finally married them together.  If Palace are to get a result on Wednesday, Zaha will have a big part to play.

Crystal Palace will monitor both James Tomkins and Bakary Sako ahead of United’s visit after both were ruled out of the trip to Hull with minor knocks. The Eagles will be without Jason Puncheon, who picked up his fifth booking of the campaign during the 3-3 draw at the KCOM Stadium. Meanwhile, Mandanda, Connor Wickham and Loic Remy all remain on the side-lines as they recover from injury.

United ended their recent home league hoodoo on Sunday, with an assured display against Tottenham, ending in a 1-0 victory. This was United’s first home win in the league since September when they beat Leicester 4-1, some would even argue that this was their best performance of the season. However there away form has hardly been much better, with only 1 away win in their last 5 games, and they have not won consecutive away games since August.

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One player who stood out in that game, and in fact since he was brought back in from the cold by Jose Mourinho has been Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Since Mkhitaryan has returned to the team, he has scored twice, provided 2 assists, and won 4 out of the 6 man of the match awards available to him. However, a clumsy challenge by Tottenham full back Danny Rose, has ruled him out until Boxing Day. Which will give Mourinho food for thought, Juan Mata would look like the automatic replacement. But Mata is not a right winger, and craves the number 10 spot.

In Mourinho’s 4-3-3, Mata has operated on the right of the midfield three. Against Arsenal, Mata was on the right but the width Antonio Valencia provided encouraged him to veer inside and Mata’s opener came from the centre of the penalty area after Ander Herrera moved into the right-hand channel. Which is the other blow for Mourinho in this game, Valencia is serving a 1 game suspension

Ashley Young, could get the nod at right-back despite his past struggles in the position. It would enable Matteo Darmian to remain at left-back and retain a measure of continuity the defence has benefited from since Phil Jones returned to the first teak against Swansea. Young, Jones, Marcos Rojo and Darmian were the back four at The Liberty Stadium.

Mata should be assured of a starting role after his competitor on the right, Jesse Lingard, was overlooked for the Spurs squad. There is arguably greater pressure on who starts behind Mata. Whether it is Young, Darmian or Timothy Fosu-Mensah, they need to match Valencia’s energy levels and provide a regular outlet for Ander Herrera, who assisted Mkhitaryan so precisely on Sunday.

Other than the absences mentioned above, United have a fully fit squad to choose from.

Other games to be played on Wednesday:

Middlesbrough v Liverpool 19:45

Sunderland v Chelsea 19:45

West Ham United v Burnley 19:45

Manchester City v Watford 20:00

Stoke City v Southampton 20:00

Tottenham Hotspur v Hull City 20:00

West Bromwich Albion v Swansea City 20:00

 

By Rich Lee @RichLee2202

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