Man Utd moved back to the top of the Premier League with a 3-1 victory over QPR with new manager Harry Redknapp watching from the stands. He will have much to ponder following this performance that offered some hope before old failings returned with a vengeance
Man Utd made five changes following their defeat away to Norwich.
Jonny Evans made his 100th Premier League appearance with Smalling making way. Hernandez, Carrick, Giggs and Valencia were replaced by Rooney, Scholes, Wellbeck and Darren Fletcher returned for his 1st appearance in a league game in a year.
Utd lined up in a 4-4-2 formation with considerable movement and fluidity amongst the front four.
Similarly, QPR made five changes to the starting line up which had capitulated at home to Southampton. Whether Mark Hughes had planned to make these changes prior to his sacking or if they were instigated by Mark Bowen is debatable.
M’Bia and Hill replaced Ferdinand and Bosingwa in defence. Further upfield, Diakite, Hoilett and Granero were all benched with Derry, Mackie and Dyer coming back into the team.
The players recalled were those who you could consider to be more industrious and hard working. It was a shift away from the QPR that Hughes had tried to establish this season and recognised the requirement to work first at Old Trafford to secure a foothold in the game.
The first half saw few chances being created.
Man Utd dominated possession but QPR were very disciplined in their positioning and the entire team worked extremely hard to press Man Utd when they entered the QPR half of the pitch. Rangers defended centrally with Derry and Faurlin protecting their defence. Man Utd were allowed space on the wings but their passing and movement was too slow to take advantage of the space.
When they did combine quickly and committed players forward to attack, they carved out some decent openings.
Paul Scholes had a penalty appeal turned down following a quick interchange of passing between Rafael and Van Persie ended with the Brazilian hitting a low cross into the QPR penalty area. The increased pace of the game enabled Rafael to break away from the loose marking of Taarabt.
An Ashley Young shot flashed wide following a driving run from Evra cutting in from the left. The forward advance of Jonny Evans pulled Shaun Derry out of position enabling the Frenchman to push into space and pass.
These incidents were few and far between in the first half that was often played at a slow pace. Utd needed to commit more men forward particularly Rafael on the right as Taarabt, although he was performing more diligently defensively, is going to switch off and let his man run away from him. Instead, Utd played in front of QPR who succeeded in getting more players behind the ball and working hard to close down space.
The Scottish International Captain was making his first Premiership start in a year. Fletcher brings a level of energy that has been missing from the centre of the Man Utd midfield in his absence. Although players such as Carrick and Scholes are better technical players, their skill sets do not compliment each other. Neither can undertake the defensive work which Fletcher can.
This was evident during the recent 3-2 away win against Aston Villa. Lambert’s side actively sought to get behind Man Utd’s central midfield pairing during quick transitions as neither Carrick or Scholes can recover.
QPR also attempted to defend deep and counter attack Man Utd which they frequently did but when they broke forward, they often found Fletcher in position and supporting his defence.
The stats above show that Fletcher’s passing is undervalued. He may not make key passes in the final third but he is essential in receiving the ball in deep positions and recycling possession.
As his match fitness increases, so too will his competitiveness.
Mackie opened the scoring for QPR in the 52nd minute.
A short corner from Dyer went to Taarabt who was unmarked. Wellbeck made an attempt to close him down before the ball was returned to Dyer whose low cross was stabbed home by Mackie. Man Utd appeared to completely switch off at the corner kick.
Man Utd have now conceded nine goals this season between the 46th and 60th minutes of games. It’s also the sixth consecutive Premier League that Utd have failed to maintain a clean sheet. Furthermore, they have fallen behind in 12 of their 20 games in all competitions. This will be an issue that Ferguson will seek to rectify. You cannot keep giving opponents’ a head start and expect to win. At some point, perhaps a key game, it becomes too much.
Man Utd scored two goals from corners which are discussed below.
The final goal for Man Utd arrived when Anderson displayed the sort of drive which had been lacking early on by running from halfway with the ball. QPR offered little resistance here with no real challenge enabling Anderson to play in Hernandez who finished well.
QPR Defending Corners
There does not seem to be a week which passes without some form of criticism of zonal marking at corners appearing. The manner in which some pundits discuss zonal marking, you would be forgiven for believing that it is the number one problem in the game right now and one which must be confronted at all costs.
QPR conceded two goals form corners in the second half but there did not appear to be any clear method of marking from QPR at any corner during the second half. Rather, what occurred was a mish-mash of part zonal marking and part man marking on occasion and at other times it was overwhelmingly man marking.
The equalising goal arrived when a corner to the back post was headed across goal and Evans threw himself towards the ball to score. Cesar initially motioned to come for the corner and stopped and QPR’s man marking system failed to win the first header.
Fletcher scored the second goal when he rose between Ferdinand and Hill arriving unmarked to head the ball powerfully past Cesar. Ferdinand and Hill appeared to be marking zonally but neither attacked the ball and Fletcher had a free run towards it.
On both of these corners, QPR deployed a player on the back post. Yet at other corners, QPR deployed players on both front and back post.
Whether you choose to deploy a zonal marking system or a man marking system, if you execute it poorly as QPR did, teams will punish you.
Can QPR Afford Luxuries?
With Harry Redknapp taking over, what will the future hold for Adel Taarabt? Given his limited playing time under Redknapp at Spurs, his role within the QPR team could be under threat. The Moroccan can bring many qualities to the game but should his maverick streak be tolerated within a team fighting a relegation battle? Too often on Saturday, his decision making was poor and similarly with Djibril Cisse, the question has to be asked if they should be indulged. Both will shoot rather than pass to a team mate in a more advantageous position.
This was epitomised by Cisse on Saturday. Leading 1-0, QPR broke forward with Cisse in possession and Mackie supporting against one Man Utd defender. Cisse should have passed to Mackie but choose to shoot instead with his resulting shot being blocked. QPR cannot afford to pass up opportunities such as these. Their position is too perilous.
From a total of six shots between them, only 1 hit the target. Of course both players will create chances during the course of a game and did so against Man Utd but can QPR afford to have two players so profligate in attack?
Ferguson will be satisfied with another three points on the back of a Champions league away trip. It was only really in the second half once QPR took the lead that Utd began to shake off the lethargy and lift the intensity of their play.
The return of Darren Fletcher in midfield for Man Utd is a huge boost. It may take a few weeks until his full match fitness and form returns but his industrious nature and energy from a deep midfield position allied to his technical qualities is the perfect foil for Carrick, Scholes or Giggs alongside him. It’s the pairing that Ferguson has favoured for so long and one which has brought Man Utd such success, a passer and a runner.
Harry Redknapp has labelled the QPR job as his toughest challenge in football. With rumours rife about dressing room unrest, Redknapp may need to remove as many players as he brings in during the January transfer window. Certain players showed on Saturday that they are prepared to give the necessary effort to have a chance at Premiership survival whilst some other players are simply not good enough. If QPR do survive, Redknapp may well have achieved his greatest managerial feat yet.
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