Manchester United began its Premier League campaign with a performance as disjointed as its offseason.
Maybe the 3-1 home loss to Crystal Palace on Saturday shouldn’t really have come as a surprise.
After all, United only ended a pandemic-prolonged 2019-20 season 33 days ago with a demoralizing loss to Sevilla in the Europa League semifinals. Since then, high-profile midfielder Paul Pogba contracted the coronavirus, captain Harry Maguire was convicted of assault in Greece (he has been granted a retrial), and young star Mason Greenwood was dropped by England — and made to train alone — for breaching coronavirus rules.
To top it all off, United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was without the majority of his squad for more than a week because of international commitments.
Still, how to explain such a listless display against an injury-hit Palace team?
“Today,” Solskjaer said, “was a performance you don’t see very often from this group.”
There was the sight of Pogba repeatedly giving the ball away. Maguire and fellow center half Victor Lindelof constantly got twisted and turned. Marcus Rashford was peripheral on the left wing. Greenwood only played the second half.
Meanwhile, Palace — battle-hardened after a more intense preseason and an opening-day win over Southampton last weekend — simply picked off United at an empty Old Trafford.
“We knew Manchester United didn’t play last week and that we had the mental advantage,” Palace winger Andros Townsend said. “If anything, we could have won it by more.”
Townsend scored the opening goal in the seventh minute and former United winger Wilfried Zaha netted twice in the final 16 minutes, the first being a retaken penalty after United goalkeeper David de Gea was adjudged to have encroached before saving the initial spot kick taken by Jordan Ayew.
The only positive for United was a debut goal for offseason signing Donny van de Beek, who came off the bench and made it 2-1 in the 80th with a precise finish following a mistake by Palace.
United should improve as the season progresses and perhaps more players are signed to add depth to the squad.
Solskjaer will sure hope so.
On a day when 21 goals were scored in four games, there were also wins for Everton, Leeds and Arsenal.
Two games in and James Rodriguez is already making a big impact at Everton.
The Colombia playmaker scored his first goal in English soccer and set up the last of Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s three goals as Everton overwhelmed 10-man West Bromwich Albion in a 5-2 win at Goodison Park.
Rodriguez also shone in Everton’s first game — a 1-0 win at Tottenham — and has settled quickly under the stewardship of Carlo Ancelotti, who he also played for at Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.
Aside from his goal and assist, Rodriguez was involved in the game’s key moment when he was shoved in the face by Kieran Gibbs soon after scoring in an action that earned the West Brom left back a straight red card in first-half stoppage time.
West Brom manager Slaven Bilic was also sent off for protesting the decision as the teams walked off at halftime.
With two 4-3 score lines so far, Leeds looks set to be the entertainer of this season’s Premier League. This time, Marcelo Bielsa’s team was on the right side of a seven-goal thriller.
In a wild match between two promoted clubs, Leeds beat Fulham for its first win since returning to the top flight after a 16-year absence.
Helder Costa scored twice, either side of strikes by Mateusz Klich — from the penalty spot — and Patrick Bamford, to give Leeds a 4-1 cushion. Bobby Reid and Aleksandar Mitrovic, with his second goal of the game, ensured a nervy finale at Elland Road but Leeds hung on.
The two teams have conceded 14 goals between them in their opening two games. Bielsa insists, though, his team will continue to attack.
“What the matches have showed,” the Argentine coaching great said, “is that we have to continue doing what made us successful in the first place. That’s the best way to get a result, rather than putting men behind the ball. It would be an error to stop doing those things that make you successful.”
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Eddie Nketiah came off the bench to score an 85th-minute winner as Arsenal beat West Ham 2-1 for a second straight victory.
The England under-21 striker had only been on the field for eight minutes when he stretched to tap in a low cross from Dani Ceballos.
Alexandre Lacazette’s opener for Arsenal had been canceled out by a well-worked team goal finished off by Michail Antonio just before halftime.
West Ham has lost both of its games so far.
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Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80