Manchester United closed the gap on top-four rivals Arsenal and Manchester City with a routine 2-0 win over Crystal Palace, providing a timely morale boost ahead of Saturday’s Emirates FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.

The victory – secured via a Damien Delaney own goal and Matteo Darmian volley – leaves the Reds just a point behind the Gunners ahead of their game-in-hand against West Bromwich Albion on Thursday, with Manuel Pellegrini’s Blues two points ahead after their draw at Newcastle earlier in the week.

Louis van Gaal made three changes to his starting XI from the preceding win over Aston Villa by recalling Matteo Darmian, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial in a 4-3-3 formation, with Wayne Rooney playing in midfield alongside Morgan Schneiderlin and Juan Mata.

The captain was deployed in a deeper role behind in-form Marcus Rashford and it was the 18-year-old’s back-heeled pass to Darmian that led to United breaking the deadlock on four minutes, when the Italian’s left-wing cross was accidentally diverted into the net by Eagles defender Delaney.

Martial, Rooney, Rashford and Lingard all went close to scoring with first-half efforts, with Julian Speroni producing solid saves on each occasion, but in truth the opening 45 minutes lacked tempo and cutting edge, particularly with Palace being so willing to sit back. Alan Pardew’s players possibly had Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final against Watford on their minds, rather than Premier League points.

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