Just when it looked as if Manchester United had found their mojo again after all this time, a stunning late free-kick from Michael Olise denied Erik Ten Hag’s side a 10th successive win in all competitions and second place in the Premier League. A first-half goal from Bruno Fernandes had seemed to provide yet more compelling evidence that the club that have been crowned champions of England more than any other could be serious title contenders once more.
With a trip to face Arsenal at the Emirates to come on Sunday, United trail the leaders by eight points having played a game more. They will know it should be much closer after surrendering their advantage with almost the last kick of the game against a spirited Crystal Palace side that simply refused to give in.
A late yellow card for Casemiro also ruled the vital midfield cog out of the Arsenal showdown as Marcus Rashford failed to continue his superb run of scoring in seven successive appearances, and it was Patrick Vieira’s side who were celebrating at full time as they avoided a fourth straight home defeat.
Not since the days of Sir Alex Ferguson had United recorded 10 straight victories in all competitions and this performance showed why they are yet to become genuine contenders despite all the progress made under Ten Hag. Having led at half-time through a well-constructed goal laid on for Fernandes by Christian Eriksen, with his seventh assist of the season, the visitors failed to press home their advantage after the break and allowed a determined Palace back into the game. While Wout Weghorst showed some promising touches on his debut after his arrival on loan from Burnley, United rarely threatened to score again after the heroics of their derby victory over Manchester City on Saturday.
By contrast, Palace have struggled to find their feet after the World Cup break and needed this boost having scored only once in their last three home fixtures. The American defender Chris Richards was outstanding on his debut while Jean-Philippe Mateta and Odsonne Édouard dovetailed well at times in a revamped forward line.
It was that combination that almost created the first opportunity for Édouard in the early minutes but the former Celtic striker declined to shoot, with United immediately serving warning of the threat they pose on the break via the quicksilver feet of Rashford. Palace won this fixture on the final day of last season in the closing act of Ralf Rangnick’s brief and forgettable tenure at United, but this time the visitors looked dangerous whenever they won possession.
Luke Shaw half-volleyed a chance wide after 15 minutes following a delicious flick from Antony before Lisandro Martínez – on his 25th birthday and making his first start since winning the World Cup with Argentina – went down for treatment on a head injury and returned with a black bandage wrapped around his head. A moment’s hesitation from Tyrick Mitchell then allowed Antony a sight of goal but the Brazilian’s lob went harmlessly wide.
Some choice words between the former Ajax forward and Fernandes after they got their wires crossed in one move hinted at some growing frustrations for United and Weghorst should have done better with his first big chance after heading over a precise cross from Shaw. At the other end, Marc Guéhi connected with Olise’s free-kick but could not direct it goal-bound as Palace found themselves limited to the occasional foray forward.
That was until just before half-time, when Olise picked out Édouard on the edge of the box and it required a spectacular save from David de Gea to tip the French striker’s shot on to the bar. Less than three minutes later, United made them pay when Rashford’s ball played in Christian Eriksen and his cutback found Fernandes in acres of space to dispatch the ball past Vicente Guaita.
An early booking for Martínez after he was fooled by Olise’s skill on the touchline at the start of the second half was a warning that Palace would not go down without a fight and he took a brilliant interception from Casemiro to stop Édouard racing though on goal. The introduction of Scott McTominay in place of Weghorst midway through the second half was perhaps an indication that Ten Hag was happy to protect what he had and it was to prove a costly approach in the end.
The Scotland midfielder thought he should have had a penalty after he went down in the area under a challenge from Richards but VAR showed there had been no contact. It required another sharp save from De Gea to keep out Guéhi’s header from Olise’s corner as Palace piled on the pressure in the final stages.
United’s defense had stood firm until Olise stepped up in the final minute after Jeffrey Schlupp had been fouled to curl home a sumptuous free-kick off the bar that took all of the wind out of United’s sails.