The talk has begun. Can the Red Devils do it again?
What a week for Manchester United as they played in all three of their remaining competitions. There is more and more talk that United have a chance to duplicate their 1999 feat of winning the Champions League, Premier League, and FA Cup, which if they manage to pull it off would give Sir Alex 30 trophies as the leader of Manchester United.
On Wednesday the 13th, Manchester traveled to Madrid’s Berabéu Stadium to face a Real Madrid squad that has been on fire recently and came away with a 1-1 draw in the opening leg of their Champions League series. That away goal may be critical come March 5th when these teams get back together at Old Trafford. Although Welbeck got the goal on a Rooney corner, there really was no question who the star of this match was for Manchester: David De Gea. If there were any remaining questions about De Gea, they were put to rest as he took blow after blow from one of the most talented offensive squads in the world, and only allowed a brilliant goal from Ronaldo to mar a terrific afternoon’s work.
On the 18th Reading came to Old Trafford for their match in the round of 16 of the FA Cup. Reading played well and kept the Red Devils at bay until the 69th minute, at which point the Royals gave up two goals in two minutes, which proved too much to overcome. Nani put in the first and played a wonderful cross in to Chicharito for the second. Although the Royals put one in the net 10 minutes later, it was United who moved on to the quarterfinals. It might have been a costly win, however, as Phil Jones went limping off. His return for the home leg against Real Madrid is questionable.
Which brings us to this week’s Premier League match against bottom dwelling Queens Park Rangers.
Manchester United Starting XI:
Rafael – Ferdinand – Vidic – Evra
Nani – Carrick – Giggs – Young
van Persie – Hernandez
Queens Park Rangers Starting XI:
Bosingwa – Samba – Hill – Traore
Mbia – Granero
Mackie – Taarabt – Townsend
There was a lot of talk early in the season about the United defense, or lack thereof, and it was deserved. It did take the Devils a bit longer to get their defense organized and playing together, but no one is complaining now as the Red Devils turned in their third consecutive EPL clean sheet. While a clean sheet against the league’s last place team is not all that unexpected, especially considering they are last in the league in scoring, the other two came at the expense of Fulham and Everton. With the league already looking up at United 12 points clear at the top of the table, United figuring out how to keep opponents out of the net is not ideal for their few remaining title-challengers.
The QPR match is a tough one to write about as the Rangers are clearly running out the string in this campaign. They have only scored 17 points in 27 matches, and it is pretty clear at this point that Harry Houdini’s magic doesn’t work at Loftus Road. Rangers appeared to try and play with United for the first 10 minutes, but they did not have any direction or plan of attack. The result was a very disjointed looking QPR who couldn’t decide whether they wanted to attack or defend. As a result there were a lot of balls that simply went out of play for throw-ins or goal kicks, and many of the QPR passes ended up on the feet of United players.
United, for their part, took a while to get comfortable with what was going on, but by about the 12 minute mark they had begun to force Rangers up the pitch and it looked only a matter of time before the Devils would put one in the net. It started with a cross from Young that Nani pushed wide and a terrific effort by Chicharito pushed over the net by Cesar. It ended with a goal-of-the-year candidate by Rafael in the 24th minute. Giggs nipped a pass at the mid-line and put a brilliant ball to the right of goal sending RVP clear. Robin drilled a shot at Cesar who pushed the ball out past the penalty area where it would normally have been safe. However, the Brazilian beat his defender to the ball, and with Adel Taraabt draped over his shoulder blistered a volley into the top left corner of the net. Cesar never moved, and United led 1-nil.
And that was not the last of the Rafael de Silva show. In the 36th minute, Rafael cleared a shot by Samba off the goal line, and on the subsequent attack by United played a perfect 25 yard pass over the top of QPR onto the foot of RVP, who’s volley attempt was well saved by Cesar.
On the goal by Rafael, van Persie’s momentum caused him to fall into the photographer’s pit and he hurt his hip. It did not look serious, but he came out of the match just before half time and was replaced by Welbeck.
Unlike Fulham a couple of weeks ago, Rangers did not quit on the match, but the goal by Rafael did seem to take the fire out of them – they played the remainder of the match as if resigned to their fate. The second half started as the first ended, with pressure on Rangers’ goal as Nani’s shot in the 47th minute had to be pushed away by Cesar. In the 52nd minute, it was Hernandez. In the 57th it was Giggs. The pressure for a second and deciding goal was on, and finally in the 80th minute Giggs put a left-footed shot into the goal on nice pass from Nani. Classic Giggsy as he took the pass from Nani, looked up, calculated where Cesar was, and blistered it to the far post with minimal angle – calm as you like. It was, in effect, game over at that point, but Giggs almost put in another two minutes later on a very clever chip shot that went just off the crossbar.
Final score: Manchester United 2, Queens Park Rangers 0
United Scorecard (0-10):
Rafael de Silva, 9 – for his almost perfect half of football in the first half of this match, Rafael is my Man of the Match. The goal alone might have made him worthy – it really was a stunner – but the pass to RVP may have been even more impressive, and his goal saving clearance was timely as well. Offense, defense and passing…a complete player on this day.
Nani, 8 – was the glue in the middle today, kept Cesar under constant pressure.
Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, 8 – yet another clean sheet. The return of Vidic seems to have solidified the United defense. They’ve been terrific since his return.
Carrick, Giggs, Young, 8 – dominated the midfield. Giggs’ goal sealed the deal.
Van Persie, Rooney, 7 – although neither scored, they both showed the commitment that it takes to play at this level. RVP maybe should have come out as soon as he hurt his hip but stayed as long as he could to help out and would have scored if not for an excellent save by Cesar. Rooney, although fighting a sinus infection and hoping not to be needed today, came on in the second half and helped sustain pressure in the offensive third.
Hernandez, 7 – played his usual game of hanging around and putting pressure on net. Was a bit unlucky his header in the first half did not go in.
De Gea, 7 – Many of the QPR “shots” looked like back passes from his own teammates; De Gea may have been napping through the majority of this match for all we know.
The Bottom Line:
With another fixture against Real Madrid on the horizon, it would have been easy for United to overlook this match and allow QPR to take a point, but this is a very focused team right now. It is said that teams often reflect the personality of their manager, and it’s obvious that Manchester United have taken Sir Alex’s determination to heart. That said, let’s get past Real Madrid before throwing around the “T” word.