Romelu Lukaku
Lukaku inspired United to a win against Chelsea last time out Getty


  • With huge games against Liverpool and Sevilla looming, Mourinho could rest the Serbian.
  • Victor Lindelof could retain his place with Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo still unavailable.

As was the case last season, some specialist tinkering from Jose Mourinho provided Manchester United with a home victory over Chelsea last Sunday [25 February]. Last term, three at the back and Ander Herrera shadowing Eden Hazard won his side the three points. With Herrera unavailable and fit centre-halves coming at a premium last weekend, another approach was needed to outwit Antonio Conte.

A rarely-seen 4-2-2-2 system ensured Hazard and Willian's impact was limited to that opening goal before Romelu Lukaku inspired his side's fightback. Nemanja Matic and Scott McTominay spent portions of the game following Willian and Hazard respectively.

In front of them, Alexis Sanchez and Paul Pogba provided another line for Chelsea to try and breach, with the Chile international often seen coming back to harry N'Golo Kante in the Chelsea engine room. The "midfield square" Mourinho talked about in his post-match press conference had done its job diligently.

It was a system set out to inconvenience Chelsea rather than to bring the best out of United's array of attacking talent. Against Crystal Palace, such pragmatic thinking probably won't be the order of the day.

Decimated by injuries and sat above the relegation zone by virtue of goal difference, Roy Hodgson's side will have a baying home crowd under the lights for inspiration but Mourinho will be expected to name a side that operates with a little more freedom.

With crucial clashes against Liverpool and Sevilla looming after United's trip to south east London, Monday might be an opportunity to hand Matic an overdue rest. The Serbian has too often been left with too much to do with the effects clearly visible, now standing as the only outfield player to have started every league game this season.

McTominay, who has earned Mourinho's complete trust, has shown he can certainly lighten the load for his teammate and against Palace, he could have the chance to prove he is also an able deputy.

With Herrera still injured and Marouane Fellaini a couple more weeks off his return, Michael Carrick is United's only other available midfield option, should Mourinho opt to rest the former Chelsea midfielder.

Manchester United vs Crystal Palace

At the back, Mourinho's hands remain largely tied, explaining at a press briefing, via United's official website, on Friday afternoon that Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo and Daley Blind remain sidelined. Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof have been the manager's only real options at the back in their last two games with Eric Bailly so far limited to appearances off the bench following his three-month injury layoff.

Mourinho provided little indication that the Ivory Coast international is closer to a return to the starting XI when speaking on Friday and with Lindelof continuing to improve, sticking to that same combination will be tempting.

That leaves the same old dilemma in attack. Anthony Martial and Romelu Lukaku once again proved their worth as a duo against Chelsea, having now combined to score six league goals this term, a return good enough to equal the records set for a partnership at United in a single Premier League season.

How Alexis Sanchez fits into that is still the conundrum dogging Mourinho. We are unlikely to see the former Arsenal star drop to the bench any time soon, which means we could see the experiment with him, Lukaku and Martial as a front three continue on Monday – even if it comes at the expense of last Sunday's match-winner Jesse Lingard.