LONDON, United Kingdom, Sept 19 – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer blamed a lack of preparation time for Manchester United’s dreadful start to the Premier League season as Wilfried Zaha scored twice against his former club to hand Crystal Palace a 3-1 win at Old Trafford on Saturday.
United ended the 2019/20 season little over a month ago due to their run to the Europa League semi-finals and had just two weeks pre-season training together.
“You can see we are short (of match fitness) and they deserved the points. They were sharper than us in the challenges,” said Solskjaer.
“You can’t be too surprised we are not at our best yet because this is the first game we’ve played since the middle of August. We have had a very short and strange pre-season. We need to improve and we need to improve quickly.”
United finished last season on a 14-match unbeaten run in the Premier League to secure a third-place finish and raise hopes of mounting a title challenge to rivals Liverpool and Manchester City this season.
But on this evidence they need far more than the solitary signing of Donny Van de Beek, who scored on his debut, to compete at the top of the table.
Solskjaer, though, refused to use a lack of new signings as an excuse for such a slow start.
“If you look at the players we have on the pitch and on the bench today, we need to look within first and know we have to perform better,” he added.
“We are always looking to improve if there is something out there available at the right price. But we can all look ourselves in the mirror today instead.”
Palace have now won their first two games of a Premier League season for the first time and on their last two visits to United.
“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,” said Palace boss Roy Hodgson.
Solskjaer kept faith with David De Gea in goal ahead of Dean Henderson, who has returned to Old Trafford from an impressive loan spell at Sheffield United.
But the Spanish international was beaten after just seven minutes as the United defence was carved open by Jeffrey Schlupp’s run and cross from the left and Andros Townsend ghosted in ahead of Luke Shaw to convert at the far post.
Zaha failed to make the grade in two seasons at United, but with Alex Ferguson, the man who signed him in 2013, in attendance, he showed why remains in such high demand.
The Ivorian’s first goal of the afternoon was ruled out by the offside flag early in the second-half from another promising Palace counter-attack.
But from Palace’s next break they got their reward as Ayew’s shot struck Victor Lindelof on the arm and, after reviewing the pitchside monitor, referee Martin Atkinson pointed to the penalty spot.
De Gea saved Ayew’s first penalty, but after another interruption from VAR, the spot-kick was retaken for De Gea being millimetres off his line when the ball was struck.
Zaha took over the responsibility and this time crashed the ball home for his second goal of the season.
Van de Beek came off the bench to replace the ineffective Paul Pogba and showed his goalscoring instinct from midfield by latching onto a loose ball inside the area to halve United’s arrears 10 minutes from time.
But just five minutes later the game was killed as a contest when Zaha shrugged off Lindelof with ease before blasting low and hard past De Gea.
“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,” added Hodgson. “We started in the right way and finished in the right way.”