As Manchester United take to Selhurst Park this evening, one man could become a thorn in the side like never before.
For Wilfried Zaha, it is always a strange sensation coming up against the team where you ought to have made your name in world football.
The Ivory Coast star will provide the attacking impetus for Crystal Palace, and with that carries the real risk of inflicting a heart breaking blow upon his former club.
United, who have set about the re-start in almost flawless fashion could yet have Champions League hopes dashed at the final hurdle, despite wracking up the points on an impressive scale.
Crystal Palace talisman Wilfried Zaha could have huge bearing on United’s European dreams
They take to south London this evening level on points with fourth-placed Leicester, who host fellow European hopefuls Sheffield United at home.
Victory for United could see them pull clear of the Foxes into fourth, with a 62-points total meaning Frank Lampard’s Chelsea, on 63 points, would have a few sleepless nights ahead.
Yet if there is one thing Palace boast in their ranks it is a man who can steal the show and bend a match to his will entirely. That man is Zaha.
As he prepares to turn 28 in November, Zaha find himself at a crossroads period in his career.
Zaha officially left Old Trafford in 2015 after failing to make the grade in the famous red shirt
The tensions are rising for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as United bid to clinch a top four finish
ZAHA’S FIGURES THIS SEASON SO FAR
Apps – 35
Starts – 34
Minutes – 3010
Goals – 4
Assists – 3
Goal Involvements – 7
Mins/Goal Involvement – 430
Expected goals (xG) – 5
Shot Conversion Rate (inc. Blocks) – 8
Total shots – 52
Since returning to his beloved Palace the Ivorian has given a further five years of magic to the Eagles, with fans now accepting the fact that the mercurial number 11’s time may be coming to an end as a big move beckons. Zaha’s stock has never been higher and, with the crippling financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic, Palace are in a position to cash in.
So, why exactly should United be worried? They do, after all, know more than most about Zaha’s powers and capabilities.
The forward has four league goals to his name this season and will be looking to add to that tally before the campaign is out.
His stunning strike against Chelsea recently summed up everything that Zaha is about, effortlessly rifling the ball from distance past the world’s most expensive goalkeeper without a single care.
It is fair to say the wind has fallen from the sails of Palace since the restart, with the club wallowing in the lower reaches of the tables yet safe of all threat of relegation.
For Zaha, however, the final few games could prove pivotal. As exclusively revealed by Sportsmail this week the Palace talisman is set for a very busy summer ahead.
Zaha showed his terrifying talent against Chelsea recently by unleashing a thunderbolt
Kepa Arrizabalaga, the world’s most expensive goalkeeper, didn’t stand a chance
Once more the offers are yet to stream in for Zaha, with European interest in the form of German giants Bayern Munich and Diego Simeone’s Spanish titans Atletico Madrid now present.
Everton and Newcastle are also monitoring the Ivorian, with both clubs willing to drop big money to make him a marquee signing.
But has Zaha earned such a move? Stats from this season, in comparison to the last, would perhaps suggest not.
This season so far Zaha has had seven goals involvements – compared to a total of 15 from the last campaign.
Every 203 minutes Zaha was involved in a goal last season, in comparison to every 430 this time around. It’s important to note that at this point, Zaha has already made as many starts (34) as he did last season. He has one more appearance to his name as well (35), despite having a few matches left to play.
United will face Palace after letting a 2-1 lead slip in the dying moments against Southampton
Yet this aside it is no secret that Zaha is by far and away Palace’s most talented player. Despite an apparent drop-off in the figures, Zaha still possesses an expected goals ‘xG’ total of five, compared to last season’s six.
The energetic forward is still getting into those dangerous positions and, it appears, is shooting slightly less than last season (he would require 21 more shots in three remaining games to equal his tally), but is getting roughly the same amount on target (30 per cent).
Facing United could however have come at the right time for Zaha, as the stars align.
The Red Devils arrive having squandered a goal to Southampton, deep into stoppage time at Old Trafford. A portion of breathing space has been surrendered as a result, while doubts may now be creeping in to the minds of the United defence.
For Zaha though things are much more simple. Performing against United is always a surefire way of silencing the critics.
As the final ever signing of legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson, huge things were expected of Zaha in north west England.
The race for the Champions League is hotting up with United, Chelsea and Leicester all vying for a top four finish – as Wolves and Sheffield United stand as outside challengers
They never materialised, yet in an exclusive interview with Sportsmail in April 2019, Zaha acknowledged that his Old Trafford set-back ensured he did not fall into obscurity, but instead rose back to the top with Palace.
Now, several years on from his failed move, Zaha has the chance to re-write history and add some neat closure to a painful tale.
Europe’s elite will be watching and, should he succeed in putting United to the sword, Zaha’s phone is sure to keep ringing when the transfer window opens on July 27.