Crystal Palace-Manchester United Preview
Rarely has a Premier League game meant so little to Manchester United.
Jose Mourinho's United welcome Crystal Palace to Old Trafford on Sunday for a game that neither club want, and with United's attention firmly focused elsewhere.
A sixth-place finish is guaranteed for United (17-15-5), whose 0-3-2 stretch during a decisive moment of the campaign ended the club's chances of finishing in the top four. But while sixth is a disappointing position for a club of United's stature, Mourinho has frequently insisted that prioritising the Europa League campaign was a necessity.
A victory over Dutch side Ajax in Wednesday night's Europa final would send Manchester United into the Champions League. But with that final of Europe's second-tier competition so close, United have "no choice" but to heavily rotate for the final game of the domestic season due to the scheduling.
"In any country in the world the match would be Saturday, because Sunday we are sixth, doesn't matter what, and Crystal Palace are safe," Mourinho said. "So after the moment Palace beat Hull and Hull are relegated, and Swansea (are) safe, in that moment the match has to be (moved to) Saturday. In any country in the world it would be Saturday. (But) it's going to be Sunday.
"It's frustrating for me. I hope you don't kill me when you see my team. I don't lose time. When I know the battle is lost I don't fight."
The Premier League rarely accommodates domestic fixtures to assist its clubs in Europe, and Crystal Palace manager Sam Allardyce sympathises with his opposite number's quandary.
"There's no doubt about that (that the game should have been moved)," Allardyce said. "They could easily have changed it last week and said 'We will give you the best chance to try to win the Europa League.'
"It's a great shame that we are not like other countries, who will bend over in fixture terms to help their teams win European competitions. We've all been moaning about the fact we're not getting anywhere near the Champions League or we're not getting anyone winning the Europa League."
Palace (12-5-20), who sit 13th, also have nothing vital to play for on the final day of the season, thanks to the win over Hull City in last weekend's crunch relegation clash. But unlike their illustrious opponents, the Eagles can move in the table depending on results - with a span of six league placings and a prize money difference of £9.5 million at stake for Allardyce and his players.
Palace will travel to Old Trafford without the services of a number of influential players due to injury. Andros Townsend, Yohan Cabaye, Mamadou Sakho and Connor Wickham all out. Scott Dann and Joel Tomkins face late fitness tests.
A late Zlatan Ibrahimovic goal rescued a win for United when these teams met at Selhurst Park in December, but the Swedish striker will not be available on Sunday due to his knee ligament injury. Marcos Rojo is also out long-term for United, while Marouane Fellaini, Eric Bailly, Chris Smalling, Ashley Young, Luke Shaw and Timothy Fosu-Mensah are unavailable for this game.
Palace have never beaten United in the Premier League era, losing 12 and drawing three of the clubs' 15 total meetings.
Allardyce has had big problems picking up points against United during his managerial career, recording just three wins in 25 attempts in all competitions.
Updated May 19, 2017