Manchester United travel to West London on Sunday, hoping to move back to the top of the table with three points against Queens Park Rangers.
Victory would see the Red Devils move one point clear of neighbours Manchester City, although the Blues will have the chance to move back to the summit, when they entertain Arsenal later in the afternoon.
Sunday’s encounter will mark the first league games between the sides since 1996, when United came away from Loftus Road with a point. A Dennis Irwin own goal had given the R’s the lead, before Eric Cantona earned the Reds a share of the spoils. More recently, Alex Ferguson’s men defeated Rangers in the Carling Cup back in 2008, when a Carlos Tevez penalty was enough to secure a 1-0 victory.
Man United go into the game on the back of an encouraging 4-1 win over Wolves, with Wayne Rooney amongst the goals. The striker had gone 8 games without scoring, but managed to bag a brace, along with Nani, giving United a vital three points. Antonio Valencia was reinstated on the right wing and looked his old self, setting up three of the four goals. The win had taken on greater importance by Monday night, as Chelsea did the Red Devils a huge favour, disposing of Manchester City 2-1, thanks to goals from Raul Meireles and Frank Lampard.
QPR face United having not won in their last three league games, with a 3-2 success over Stoke on November the 19th the last time they tasted victory. Since then, they have lost to Norwich and drawn with West Brom, before heading to Anfield last weekend to take on Liverpool. A header from Luis Suarez was enough for Liverpool in a 1-0 win.
Team Selection Thoughts
Sir Alex Ferguson’s options in midfield look barer than ever, after the club confirmed that Darren Fletcher will be taking a break from football indefinitely. The Scot is battling ulcerative colitis, a serious bowel condition, meaning he won’t be available for selection until well into the New Year at least. With Anderson and Cleverley already on the sidelines, Ferguson will probably stick with the pairing of Michael Carrick and Phil Jones who have looked a viable combination in the centre of the pitch. Ryan Giggs, Ji Sung Park and Darron Gibson are the other alternatives, although because of Carrick and Jones’ success there in the past two league matches, it is unlikely the manager will want to change a winning formula.
David De Gea should start in goal, although Sir Alex likes to rotate the keepers, so don’t be surprised if Anders Lindegaard is between the posts on Sunday afternoon. The back four could be unchanged from that which started against Wolves, with Chris Smalling and Patrice Evra in the right and left back slots respectively. In the middle, Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans look set to continue building a partnership with Nemanja Vidic out for the rest of the season with a serious knee injury.
Going forward, Nani and Valencia should play on the wings after putting in superb performances against Mick McCarthy’s team last weekend. Although Nani scored two, the more pleasing performance was from Valencia, who up until last Saturday had struggled to hit top form. However he seemed more confident and determined to get forward, running at his man at every opportunity, and this paid off as the Ecuador international set up three of the four goals. At times he looked back to his scintillating best from the 2009/2010 season, when he and Wayne Rooney struck up a devastating partnership. It’s no surprise that Valencia’s return to form coincided with Rooney finding the net twice.
Up front, United have been boosted by the news that Dimitar Berbatov is fit to travel on Sunday, after recovering from an ankle injury. He may be restricted to a place on the bench though, if Ferguson decides to stick with the all English pairing of Rooney and Welbeck. There have been signs that these two could form a good partnership, and with Hernandez out, it is imperative that the Reds find a prolific pairing up front.
Here, at Stretford End Arising we spoke to members of QPR Report and asked their thoughts on the upcoming game and more:
QPR will be very lucky to get a point on Sunday. I think Warnock is likely to roll the dice and go with 4-4-2, hoping that we can get something out of a high scoring encounter because it is hard to see how we will be able to keep a clean sheet. Man United are a lot better going forward than defensively this season and I think that will be our best hope.
QPR have done well against most of the top sides, apart from Liverpool, and have dropped points against sides we should be looking to beat, prime examples being West Brom and Norwich. However, we are in a decent position from which we can build from, and I expect/hope/pray/would sell my mother for anywhere above the relegation zone come the end of the season.
Warnock is a great Championship level manager, but has yet to prove himself at this level. He did a fantastic job last season, but not so much this year. Creating tight, hardnosed teams is his strength, which has not really characterised QPR over the years. He is the right manager if he keeps us up!
It’s pretty obvious Fernandes is seen in a better light than the previous owners. Fans are singing his name at games – he has given us our club back. He is very keen on involving us, the fans, back into club decisions and fully supports Warnock and has just breathed new life into our club.
Taarabt has been a shadow of the player he was last season. Now whether that’s down to him not being good enough for the Premier League and/or whether he is out of shape and unfit and/or that his mind is elsewhere and he no longer wishes to be at the club anymore, who knows. He is capable of doing some great things for QPR; if he can get his confidence/fitness/attitude right – the guys a magician.
Premier League Life
I’m loving life back in the Premier League; it’s where we belong. Ale Faurlin has been superb in midfield and has adapted well to the step up, hence the reason why clubs are sniffing around him. Heidar Helguson has been surprisingly good this season bagging most of our goals of late and Paddy Kenny has been immense in some games and prevented scorelines from being cricket scores, in particular the Spurs game. The majority of our championship players have struggled: Fitz Hall, Akos Buzsaky, Sean Derry appear to lack the quality and survive at this level.
Three Key Battles
Antonio Valencia vs. Armand Traore
Sir Alex highlighted United’s wing men as one of the key reasons for their victory last time out and Antonio Valencia looked like his old self. The pacey winger is electric and given time and space could hurt any team in the league. If United can get the ball down and spread it wide, then Valencia can drive into the box and play those dangerous balls across the six yard line for Rooney. Traore is no slouch himself, but he will be in for a torrid afternoon if Valencia is on form.
Danny Gabbidon vs. Wayne Rooney
Rooney’s return to goal scoring form couldn’t have come at a better time for United as they head into the most hectic part of the season. Rooney tends to score his goals in batches and if he finds the net early on Sunday, expect him to go on and get more. Gabbidon will have his work cut out to mark Rooney though as he tends to drop deep, spraying the ball wide before getting into the box. When he plays, so do United and if he can play like he did against Wolves then the Reds can think about three points.
Shaun Wright-Phillips vs. Chris Smalling
The ex Manchester City winger is a tricky customer, and has returned to form under Warnock. Smalling will have to use all of his defensive nous to keep the winger under wraps and will have to make sure he doesn’t get caught of position when raiding forward. If Smalling can neutralise the threat of Wright-Phillips then United can concentrate on scoring goals instead of conceding them.
The Red Devils know that victory is key heading into the festive period and with City facing Arsenal, United could be top of the pile come Sunday night. Loftus Road will be a sell out as the R’s look to cause an upset, but I think United will garner another three points and heap all the pressure back onto Manchester City.
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