Crystal Palace v Manchester United. The most underwhelming, incredibly crucial game United may face all season. Win and they can maintain the faint optimism of a Champions League place, lose and they could find themselves a sizeable 14 points away from fourth place with 11 games to play. If it happened any time before December, you would have fancied United to win handily enough. Yes – even a United team managed by David Moyes. Hell, who knows – even Marouane Fellaini might have played well. It’s a different story now however as Pulis began to instigate his philosophy at Selhurst Park. Philosophy being a rather elaborate term for parking the bus and then hoofing the ball towards your lumbering centre forward. It may be style that’s about as elegant as a drunken handjob at the back of a late night bus, but it’s been effective. Since he took charge of the Eagles, he’s taken them from the foot of the table with seven points and six points from safety to a lofty 15th on 26 points which leaves them two points above the drop zone. If that wasn’t enough miracle-working, he’s also made Marouane Chamakh look vaguely like a Premier League striker. Palace have improved radically under the surly Welshman. In fact, rather depressingly for United fans, since he took over, Palace’s form isn’t too different to United’s. Since his first game in charge of Palace on November 30:
- Palace have won 43% of their games (all competitions)
- United have won 47% of theirs (all competitions)
When looking exclusively at the league, the figures get even more troubling for United fans. Since Pulis took charge, the win rates are even closer
- Palace have won 42% of their league matches, averaging 1.33 points per game
- United have won 43%, averaging 1.5 points per game
What makes those numbers even more impressive is it comes during a spell when Palace travelled to play Chelsea, Manchester City, Spurs and Arsenal. They took precisely zero points from those four game, but gave decent accounts of themselves only losing by a goal to City and the Pensioners and losing 2-0 to both north London clubs. If you strip out those four games that you’re always incredibly unlikely to win when you count Danny Gabbidon as one of your defensive pillars of strength, their points per game return increases to a very solid two. The league table shows how much better Palace have got as well as anything, but just to display the consistent improvement Pulis has got from his team, here’s a look at the average points per game the two teams have managed this season. It illustrates that Palace on an upward trajectory. United are also on a trajectory, but not one they’d be overly happy about. Since taken over, Pulis has doubled Palace’s average points per game haul. Under Ian Holloway, the Eagles were averaging around half a point per game, now it’s a smidgen over one point per game. It’s a slight difference, but in the heat of a relegation mud-wrestle, it all helps. While it may appear like a small difference, it has propelled Palace out of the relegation zone and if he continues the progress, it may not end up too far away from what United are managing. A good run of results over Christmas saw Moyes’ team climb up towards around the 1.75 points per game mark, but a bad run of results since has it hovering just about 1.5 points a game and in danger of falling further. Ultimately, it may mean nothing. United might rock up to South Norwood, give Palace a sound spanking and suddenly feel better about life. But while that would have felt perfectly predictable a few months back, things have changed radically for both teams. Palace are big outsiders a on Saturday, but the logic for backing them is crystal clear.