Alarm bells ring at United
Manchester United 1
Crystal Palace 3
IF THE alarm bells were ringing at Manchester United before this disastrous Premier League opener, now they are about to become deafening.
Just 34 days after United's last season ended in a disappointing Europa League semi-final defeat, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's under-prepared side were well beaten 3-1 by a Palace side that could have won by more at Old Trafford.
A first half opener from Andros Townsend (inset on opposite page) and a twice-taken penalty that was eventually finished off by former United winger Wilfried Zaha, before he then fired a late clincher, sent Palace into dreamland at the Theatre of Dreams.
Donny van de Beek's sweet finish ten minutes from time gave the club's only summer signing a perfect start to his United career, yet too many of Solskjaer's big-names looked short of fitness and sharpness in a disjointed performance.
"We can have no excuses," declared a downbeat Solskjaer.
"Palace were the better team and even if the penalty they got was a poor decision, we have to accept it and move on.
"I know there will be a reaction to this, but we have to accept it and get back to work as we have two big games this week.
"We can see that the players are not as fit as we want them to be, but this is the way it has been because we did not have a normal pre-season.
"You can see we are short and they deserved the points.
"We should look at ourselves in the mirror.
"Everyone knows we can perform better than this."
When asked about potential transfer moves he added: "We are always looking to improve if there is something out there that is available at the right price."
Zaha's pace, along with the attacking threat of Jordan Ayew and Townsend proved to be far too much for a flat United to handle and while the contentious nature of Palace's second goal can be highlighted as one reason for their defeat, this is not a moment for excuses.
Harry Maguire looked shaky at the heart of the United defence, Paul Pogba was anonymous in midfield and the attacking trio of Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and Anthony Martial failed to fire as they lacked the quality service they crave.
Palace opened the scoring after seven minutes when Jeffrey Schlupp was given too much space on the left flank and squared to Townsend to finish well.
With United's defensive line looking vulnerable every time Palace pressed them, the pairing of Maguire and Victor Lindelof were exposed far too often and while they rode their luck to get through to the 74th minute without conceding again, a contentious penalty after Lindelof was adjudged to have handled Ayew's shot gave Palace the second goal they craved.
The penalty decision looked harsh and after Ayew missed from the spot, with David De Gea off his line, referee Martin Atkinson ordered a retake and Zaha made no mistake second time around.
A cool finish from Van de Beek gave United some hope, but this performance was not worthy of any reward and Zaha confirmed as much as he brushed the woeful Lindelof aside to score Palace's third.
"He's an incredible talent," said Townsend of Zaha.
"He's shown that in the six or seven years he has been here and we're very fortunate to have him in our ranks.
"Hopefully we can have him for a while longer yet.
"This was a great win. We knew it was Manchester United's first game and we knew if we started fast we could catch them cold and that's what we did."
Palace boss Roy Hodgson added: "I thought that both defensively and offensively we were good.
"We made certain and kept them playing in front of us and they could not profit from those spaces they are skilful enough to find. And when we had the ball I thought we looked very dangerous and threatening so I don't think it was a big surprise that we scored three.
"When you come here you need to show you are going to play on the front foot and not just defend and let them do what they want on the ball. We started in the right way and finished in the right way."
Palace could toast their second successive win of the new season, but the big story is the post-mortem than can now begin over a United defeat that was as predictable as it was galling.
Once again, the club's executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward will be in the eye of a storm as his inability to get transfer deals over the line will become the focus of attention for the club's fans already beginning to vent their frustrations before a ball had been kicked in this game.
In a week that saw Liverpool side Thiago Alcantara and Diogo Jota and Tottenham bring Gareth Bale back to the club, United could ill-afford this horror show of a display and now the questions over what happens next will be asked.
Their summer-long pursuit of Borussia Dortmund's Jadon Sancho appears to have consumed all their focus.
And with United's owners refusing to pay the €120m asking price for the England star, Solskjaer finds himself in a state of limbo experienced by many of the club's managers in recent years.
David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho have all tried and failed to work with former investment banker Woodward who continues to retain control of the club's transfer policy despite his credibility to fill the role being shattered long ago.
Woodward has been the villain pf the piece for United fans for many a long year and now he is in the line of fire again, with Solskjaer not being given the support he needs to compete with the game's giants.
United's PR spin machine has been out in force in recent weeks as they have tried to highlight the club's financial commitment to new signings in recent years, but the reality is that Woodward has failed time and again to prove he is equipped to hold one of the most prestigious administrative roles in world football.
It was left to Solskjaer to make the excuses, with Woodward fortunate he was not surrounded by a sell-out Old Trafford crowd who would doubtless have been quick to remind him that he is out of his depth in a role he has never been qualified for.
But the ramifications of the United display will rumble on for the next week and even longer.
Former Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino's name looks certain to be linked with United once again if Solskjaer fails to find a winning formula in double-quick time.