So much a for a drama-free run-up ahead to the close of the European transfer window involving Paul Pogba.
A missed penalty by the superstar has brought out the worst in social media as speculation regarding his future intensifies ahead of Saturday’s match at Old Trafford between Manchester United and Crystal Palace.
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The France international has kept a low profile in the early part of the season in helping United (1-1-0) take four of six points in the first two matches. But Pogba’s missed second-half penalty that would have given the Red Devils a lead in their eventual 1-1 draw at Wolverhampton on Monday resulted in a barrage of vile criticism, including racist posts and death threats on Twitter.
Some were so bad that Greater Manchester Police are assisting the club in identifying who sent the tweets, with the team handing down lifetime bans for those found responsible.
“Everyone at Manchester United is disgusted by the racial abuse aimed at Paul Pogba last night and we utterly condemn it,” the club said in a statement released Tuesday. “The individuals who expressed these views do not represent the values of our great club and it is encouraging to see the vast majority of our fans condemn this on social media also.
“Manchester United has zero tolerance of any form of racism or discrimination and a long-standing commitment to campaigning against it through our #AllRedAllEqual initiative. We will work to identify the few involved in these incidents and take the strongest course of action available to us. We also encourage social media companies to take action in these cases.”
The sordid affair also renews questions about whether Pogba will still be with United when the Sept. 2 European transfer window closes. Rumours continue to swirl Real Madrid are readying an offer for the 2018 World Cup winner, though Pogba is merely one marquee name among many Los Blancos are reportedly linked to.
The match will also serve as a quick reunion for United right back Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who will face his old Palace mates after his £50 million move from Selhurst Park over the summer. The 21-year-old has impressed in his first two league matches, doing a standout job shutting down opponents trying to press down the left flank.
That has not surprised his former boss Roy Hodgson, who told Sky Sports on Thursday, “”He has fitted in very well. I thought he was excellent (in United’s opening matches). His performance in particular against Wolves was outstanding.
“We don’t need reminding of how good he is because we were lucky enough to benefit from him being so good for a year-and-a-half before he left us.”
United have no new injury concerns, but it is unknown if United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will add Alexis Sanchez to the 18-man roster for the first time this season. The Chile international has sufficiently recovered from a hamstring injury but is also rumoured to be among those moving across Europe, with recent reports linking him to joining former Chelsea boss Antonio Conte at Inter Milan.
“Let’s see what happens in the coming few weeks,” Solskjaer said at his Thursday news conference. “There are still a few weeks for international transfers to go through. At the moment, he’s our player.”
Crystal Palace (0-1-1) are still looking for their first goal of the season, following up their draw versus Leicester City with a 1-0 defeat at promoted Sheffield United last Saturday. Wilfried Zaha failed to make an impact in his first start, and the Eagles were often second-best throughout the match, conceding shortly after the restart when a parried save by Vincent Guaita went right to Sheffield’s John Lundstram, who made no mistake from 10 yards.
Hodgson’s injury concerns continue to be in central defence, where first-choice pairing Mamadou Sakho and James Tomkins have yet to feature due to injury. The Palace boss offered no timetable for their return, which means Joel Ward and Martin Kelly could feature for a third straight contest.
“Mamadou Sakho trained with us for a while then felt his knee again. He still trains with the physio, aside from the first-team group,” Hodgson said at his Thursday press conference. “Unfortunately he and James Tomkins have spent pre-season in the medical room, training along with the sport science people.
“They’re working at it. It’s difficult to put a timescale on. Both are getting closer and are working hard every day.”
Hodgson did hint that late summer signing Gary Cahill could make his Palace debut after serving as an unused substitute in the first two matches.
Palace nicked their first Premier League point from United in 10 visits at Old Trafford last season with a scoreless draw. Their goalless drought in league play at the “Theatre of Dreams,” though, was extended to 584 minutes dating to Joonas Kolkka’s strike in a 5-2 defeat in 2004.
They have been outscored 22-2 in those 10 top-flight matches on the red side of Manchester, and Palace’s lone victory in the last 16 visits (1-2-3) spanning 30 years was a 2-1 League Cup quarterfinal triumph after extra time in 2011.
Odds and Ends, per Ladbrokes
To Win: Manchester United 4/11, Draw 18/5, Crystal Palace 17/2
Both Teams to Score: Yes 11/10, No 4/6
Over/Under 2.5 Goals: Over 3/4, Under 19/20
First Goal Scorer Manchester United: Martial, Rashford 7/2; Mason Greenwood 4/1; Pogba 9/2; Sanchez 5/1; James, Lingard, Mata 7/1
First Goal Scorer Crystal Palace: Zaha, Benteke 11/1; Wickham, Ayew 12/1, Milivojevic 14/1
Anytime Goal Scorer Manchester United: Martial, Rashford 5/4; Greenwood 7/5; Pogba 13/8; Sanchez 9/5; James, Lingard, Mata 5/2
Anytime Goal-Scorer — Zaha 7/2; Benteke, Wickham 4/1; Ayew 9/2; Milivojevic 5/1
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Manchester United 3, Crystal Palace 0.
PREDICTED HALFTIME SCORE: Manchester United 2, Crystal Palace 0.
PREDICTED FIRST GOAL-SCORER: Marcus Rashford.
OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 3 PREVIEWS
Aston Villa (0-0-2) vs. Everton (1-1-0)
Brighton and Hove Albion (1-1-0) vs. Southampton (0-0-2)
Liverpool (2-0-0) vs. Arsenal (2-0-0)
Tottenham Hotspur (1-1-0) vs. Newcastle United (0-0-2)
(Paul Pogba/Ole Gunnar Solskjaer photo courtesy Manchester United official Twitter account)