Nothing in Ed Woodward’s programme notes suggested Manchester United are about to prise open the wallet and start splashing the cash any time soon. His message seemed pretty clear and it was that the board must continue to be “responsible” with resources hit hard by the continuing loss of match-day revenues.
Yet after watching Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side slide to a dismal, there is little doubt the executive vice-chairman will have been grimacing behind his mask in the stands.
Even allowing for a pre-season which amounted to a week of training and a friendly against Aston Villa, United were dismal.
Their forward line was terrible, midfield bypassed and their defence all over the place against a vibrant and confident Crystal Palace whose front men shredded United.
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Andros Townsend opened the scoring after seven minutes and Wilfried Zaha scored twice, the first a controversial penalty retake after David de Gea came off his line early.
Donny van de Beek, United’s solitary signing of the summer to date, pegged one back for his new side on debut, but aside from that there were precious few positives.
Certainly, Solksjaer could see none. “Ninety minutes game time and fitness. That was more or less it,” he said.
Luke Shaw suggested United need to sanction some spending if they are to continue to compete against the top sides in the league.
“We have a very good group, but personally I think we need more players to strengthen the squad. It can give us a boost,” he said.
“When you look around at how other teams are strengthening their teams, then we must also do it to keep up with the others.”
Yet he also admitted United’s preparation has been less than ideal.
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“My first day back training I could have probably counted on one hand the number of people who were training,” he said.
“It’s not an excuse because we have the quality of players to be able to win games like this.
“But we weren’t up for it tonight and we have been punished.”
United will get better as the season progresses as a squad who finished on August 16. But they will need to.
Victor Lindelof had a day to forget, Timothy Fosu-Mensah a torrid time at right back, and David De Gea did nothing to suggest that Dean Henderson’s time is not approaching.
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A second half penalty, conceded by Lindelof as Jordan Ayew’s chip clipped his arm summed up United’s day. After seeing De Gea save a first spotkick in 21 for club or country, he was deemed to have left his line early by VAR.
The retake, with Zaha stepping in to replace Ayew, gave him no chance.
Palace, posting two wins from two in the top flight for the first time in their history, were lucky to run into a United side off the pace all over the pitch.
But all the best players on the pitch – Zaha, Townsend, Jeffrey Schlupp – wore white.
Lindelof, Fosu-Mensah, Shaw were shaky, Paul Pogba sloppy and Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Daniel James all anonymous.
The one bright spot was the introduction of Van de Beek who got himself in the right spot as the ball pinballed around the Palace box, side-footing home.
For all that he started in the stands, no doubt wondering what he had let himself in for, he looked lively which is understandable given Ajax finished their season in March.
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