This has been an extremely odd period for Palace. Having broken through the magical 40 points threshold after giving Sunderland a proper shellacking, the goals and points have dried up and we have been drifting aimlessly in the doldrums.
The two defeats to West Brom and Hull were as unexpected as they were mediocre, whilst the defeat at Stamford Bridge that confirmed Chelsea as the Premier League Champions was entirely predictable but a good deal more honourable. Recent experience dictates that the team need the motivation of facing the bigger clubs to be up for the challenge.
Manchester United are considered to be the biggest club not only on these shores but also around the world, so logically the players should be chomping at the bit to prove themselves. None more so than Zaha, who was effectively put into deep freeze by the club during his deeply unhappy stay at Old Trafford.
The issue facing Pardew is that Wilf may need calming down because if he tries too hard he will probably not perform to his best ability. The perfect riposte to his former club would be to help Palace to win rather than setting off on a personal agenda in trying to humiliate those who humiliated him.
With both clubs coming into the game on the back of three successive defeats the distinct lack of form of United is more puzzling as they really need to push on to secure a Champions League place.
Van Gaal’s philosophical approach seems to have drifted recently and much seems to depend on whether that old warhorse Carrick plays as a holding midfielder. It is ironic that the Dutchman’s revolution should depend upon one of the longest-serving players in the current squad. The team may be littered with talent but without a man to knit it all together they can flounder.
If Palace are to upset the odds the best chance may come from playing with an away day mentality, that is ceding possession until the final third and then rapier like thrusts down the flanks as soon as we have the ball.
Alongside a fired up Zaha we need to see Bolasie back on form, since his extraordinary hat-trick against Sunderland he has hardly justified his inflated price tag. Glenn Murray has also been quiet in the last few games and was only a substitute against Chelsea. To ensure that this season does not peter out, this match represents the perfect opportunity to raise their game and test Van Gaal’s philosophy to the limit.
Richard’s first book The A-Z of Football Hates is available online and in bookshops.
His second book on the history of the Play-Offs, The Agony & The Ecstasy will be out in a few weeks.