Manchester UnitedManchester UnitedQueens Park Rangers

vs

Queens Park Rangers

Loftus Road Stadium, London

17 January 2014 1500 hours UTC

Manchester United would still be smarting from the 0-1 pasting handed out to them by fellow Champions League aspirants Southampton last week when they travel to London on Saturday to meet relegation threatened Queens Park Rangers. Southampton leap frogged the Old Trafford outfit into third place in the league when they picked up a surprise victory on the road thus also breaking an 11-match unbeaten streak that the Red Devils had been enjoying since the start of November last year. United wouldn’t want to fall too far off the bandwagon with an already gaping lead built at the top of the table by Chelsea and Manchester City, and Arsenal breathing down their neck sitting in 5th only one point behind.

Team news, probable lineup and tactics

Manchester United

Louis van Gaal has come under severe criticism over the last few matches and especially after the last one when United capitulated to an embarrassing 0-1 defeat at home. At the heart of this blame game is the United manager’s favourite 3-5-2 formation that brought him rich dividends in the World Cup last year, taking the Netherlands as far as the quarter finals of the pinnacle competition. The success of the formation however hinged on the tireless efforts on one Arjen Robben. Apart from Angel di Maria, United do not have a player of Robben’s skill and calibre. Di Maria’s injury ruled him out for a short period and without his creativity on at least one flank, United never seemed like scoring for those games. As ex-United midfielder Paul Scholes correctly pointed out, Louis van Gaal’s formation is “designed to give Manchester United possession but not goals”. Injuries have been an ever present complication to United’s hopes so far this season. When Ashley Young and Marouanne Fellaini were looking to be on a purple patch, injuries to the duo cut off any hopes that the United faithful may have been harboring of maintaining a steady challenge for the top. Although Fellaini returned as substitute against Southampton and even played a healthy amount of time, Young is still a couple of weeks away from match fitness.

Robin van Persie on the other hand was taken off against Southampton after having a niggle in his ankle. All indications are that RvP will miss the trip to London, thus providing LvG with the perfect chance to start Falcao. Falcao has not been his devastating self ever since his knee injury and it is looking increasingly unlikely that United will complete his transfer in the summer window instead of terminating the loan agreement and sending him back to Monaco. The problem from United’s point of view is that he is not scoring enough to threaten RvP’s starting spot. Given his performance so far, he may not play as a lone striker with Rooney moving up the field to fill in the role of second striker. The United captain was miserable in his deeper holding role against Southampton and struggled to take control of a game that should have gone United’s way. That experiment must be called off immediately and will hence warrant Blind to go back to his customary sweeper role, also freeing up Carrick and Fellaini to play ahead of him. Fellaini automatically selects himself in a way since the weak QPR defense tends to hoof the ball upfield. Long ball tactics would catch out United and the presence and aerial threat provided by the big Belgian would be invaluable to tackle this issue. Ander Herrera is also an option alongside Fellaini but the United manager has been reluctant to start the Spaniard inspite of no evident fitness issues. His selection would be a good way to rest Michael Carrick who has been putting in a shift game after game. Di Maria struggled in his striking role against Southampton and dropping him slightly deeper as the head of the diamond midfield could pay rich dividends as QPR have a defence that noticeably lacks pace once beaten.

All this is, of course, under the assumption that United will revert to the more customary 4 man defense especially against a QPR side that mainly plays narrow in the channel and doesn’t venture too much into the wide areas of the pitch. Rojo has completed his return from injury and will definitely be one of the starters in the centre back role. With Jones still seeming a bit iffy, Smalling should be able to bag the other central defensive spot thanks to Evans’ disaster inducing performances so far this season. Luke Shaw and Rafael, United’s regular (or at least specialist) fall backs are also fit and deserve to get their respective starts this game.

Probable Lineup (4-4-2 diamond): de Gea; Shaw, Rojo, Smalling, Rafael; Herrera, Blind, di Maria, Fellaini; Falcao, Rooney

Queens Park Rangers

Harry Redknapp’s side go into this home game with a lot of pressure, even possibly Redknapp’s short term future on the line. QPR have set the dubious record of being the first club in the EPL era to not pick up a single point from their first 10 games on the road. This had pushed them to the brink of the relegation zone when they started floundering and crashed to defeats even at home. Home draws against Crystal Palace and Swansea and then the FA Cup embarrassment against Cup side Sheffield United has put the Rangers on the ropes. The bells are not only ringing but tolling a death knell and defeat at home to United will not be looked upon kindly at all.

Ex-United defender Rio Ferdinand should be able to make his way back into the side, having missed the previous game after a precautionary rest due to a tight groin. Traore is out with a toe injury and Sandro and Yun Suk-Young are also still unavailable for selection. Caulker will most likely partner Ferdinand in central defense while Isla and Hill will play at their customary fall back positions. QPR’s midfield is significantly underpowered especially in contrast to their opponents for Saturday. Barton and Henry will have to play some of their best possible football if they hope to be able to contain the star studded midfield at all and in fact their best bet would probably be to play the long balls from their own half to either Charlie Austin or Zamora. Austin has been a steady light in QPR’s otherwise bleak Premier League campaign this season. He has scores 8 goals in his last seven appearances at Loftus Road. That said, QPR have not beaten, or even kept a clean sheet against a side in the top half of the table. Austin will also face a stiffer opponent in the form of in form United goalkeeper, David de Gea. QPR, and their manager, have their work cut out and Harry Redknapp will hope to get it bang on spot to have any hopes of having his job come Sunday morning.

Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Green; Hill, Ferdinand, Caulker, Isla; Fer, Barton Henry, Vargas; Zamora, Austin

Match facts

  • QPR have never beaten Manchester United in the Premier League, drawing 2 and losing 11.
  • QPR have conceded 37 goals in this season so far, the highest in the league.
  • United have scored just once in their last 3 Premier League games. In their last game they failed to get a single shot on target.

Match prediction

Manchester United 3 – 1 Queens Park Rangers

Both clubs are looking for a win here. United would like to keep apace with the table toppers while QPR would want to climb out of the relegation hole they currently sit in. If Louis van Gaal has been adamant to continue using the three man defense, United’s defenders have replied in kind showing tenacity to prove they are unable to play in that formation. QPR’s defense is no better. Rio is old and Caulker too is slow on the take up and between, Falcao, Rooney and di Maria, United can run circles round this defense. The match promises to be a goal fest with either a spectacular goal or a de Gea special save securing the points for the Red Devils on the road.