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EPL results 2021, Manchester United vs Crystal Palace, score, highlights, table, Paul Pogba injury update, Bruno Fernandes

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On the bus ride into Selhurst Park, Manchester United would have been visualising walking off the pitch at the end of the game knowing they were in a fight for the Premier League title.

They are in a fight, but as they trudged off following the 0-0 draw with Crystal Palace, they know it’s now a fight for a Champions League place and nothing more.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side looked weathered, fatigued and lacking any sort of imagination as they mustered just one shot on target in the entire game and waited for 70 dour, lifeless minutes to introduce a substitute.

United have now had more goalless draws than any other team in the Premier League this season with six – their joint highest ever in a single season.

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United & Palace play out nil all draw | 01:27

Even vice executive chairman Ed Woodward couldn’t remain composed as he was pictured with his head in his hands, perhaps accumulating how much more money he needs to plead for from the owners to fix this mess.

And yes, even though United are second in the league, it’s still becoming a mess.

Fred couldn’t pass, Marcus Rashford couldn’t shoot, Bruno Fernandes couldn’t create and Solskjaer couldn’t change anything.

“They’ve got to be careful,” Alan Shearer said after the game. “Man City are so far ahead of the rest of the league, that they have an acceptance that ‘OK, we can finish second and that’s a bit of an achievement as an improvement on last year’ and they get into that mentality that the season’s nearly over. ‘We can just do enough, we can do well in the Cup competition, finish in the top four’.

“That in itself is a good season but it looked as if there was that sort of mentality tonight – there was no real urgency, real fight or scrap to say ‘we’re going to try and put serious pressure on our neighbours Man City in case something does happen’.

“I think that performance tonight was an acceptance that Man City will win the league.”

Fernandes’ genius had driven them to top of the league but despite what he might protest, weariness is clearly creeping in and Solskjaer has no Plan B. Perhaps Fernandes’ biggest endorsement for why he should be crowned player of the year is from his teammates, who appear clueless when he isn’t on song.

Sheffield down Villa 1-0 | 01:29

And Solskjaer isn’t helping him. Fernandes was allowed to start the Europa League second leg against Real Sociedad last week despite United holding a 4-0 away goal advantage. Why was he not rested?

Now United are 14 points behind champions-in-waiting Manchester City and only seven points ahead of those chasing the top four, all of whom have a game in hand.

“They (United) looked lethargic and well off it, their body language looked really drained,” former captain Gary Neville told Sky Sports. “I thought they would cement second place by picking up points at places like Crystal Palace. Now Liverpool and Chelsea will think they are in with a right chance.

“It wasn’t a good night for United. It doesn’t matter who’s in charge, you can’t be boring and that was boring tonight. They are sleepwalking in games. They are going to end up in a top-four race if they are not careful.”

That winning run that took them to top spot over the Christmas and New Year period now seems like it was the exception and what is happening now is the rule.

Only Fulham and Brighton have drawn more games than United’s nine so far this season, seven of which have come in the last two months.

VAR dishes out soft red card | 00:57

They are on a run of three consecutive 0-0 draws in all competitions and seem unable to both be defensively sound and offensively creative at the same time. The balance just doesn’t exist.

This was Manchester United’s best chance of winning the Premier League since 2013 and for brief period in January, we all believed it.

Now they must face up to reality, and that is that they now have to go to the home of the future champions, their noisy neighbours Manchester City, and try and end a 21-game winning run that has swept aside all of those before them.

When Paul Pogba hobbled off injured at the start of February, he left a side five points behind Manchester City. He will return to a side 14 points or worse with their season in danger of slipping completely away from them.

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