The West Londoners might not be a force to be reckoned with – in fact they were abysmal for large spells of the game – but it was a refreshing change to see United finally take control of a game and play with confidence and intent. Here’s five things we’ve learnt from Sunday…
1) I love an Angel instead
There’s simply nowhere or nobody else to start from. Since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo United have been crying for a player who could fill the number 7 shirt as the club’s tradition requires.
Two games into his Manchester United career and there can be little doubt that Angel Di Maria is on the right track. While the Argentine had sporadically flickered away at Burnley two weeks ago, his flame burnt throughout his home debut, as he ran the show from midfield, a luxury United had not been able to afford for years.
The opening goal might have been aided by a slice of luck but the run that led to United’s second had nothing to do with fortune, rather with the outstanding ability of a player that Real Madrid will regret selling. United might still lack a dominant central midfielder and Di Maria might be a winger by trade but he looked incredibly at ease in Louis Van Gaal’s diamond, driving the ball forward from deep and linking superbly with his teammates, a sight that Old Trafford had grown unused to since the Paul Scholes’ heydays.
Di Maria and Scholesy are two completely different players but the Argentine could become as crucial a figure for this side as Scholes was for Fergie’s team.
2) Diamonds are forever
After three underwhelming experiments with a three-man defence, Van Gaal switched to a more traditional flat back four, with Marcos Rojo finally available after he was granted his work permit, while Rafael returned from injury.
United looked incredibly more at ease with Rojo and Jonny Evans in the middle of the back four, though QPR provided little threat to United’s rearguard, but the most encouraging notes arrived from the midfield, where Daley Blind, Ander Herrera, Juan Mata and Di Maria combined superbly.
Exactly a year ago, United started hosted Crystal Palace with a midfield comprising Michael Carrick, Anderson, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young and while all of them are still at the club the change from 12 months ago, in terms of personnel, has been nothing short of astounding.
The current quarter offers pace, creativity, steel and composure and one wonders whether Van Gaal will return to a five-man midfield in the future, given how well 4-4-2 worked on Sunday.
3) The right Juan
As United spent and splurged their way through the final 10 days of the transfer window, pundits and journalists were busy writing essays in which they looked to explain why Juan Mata has no place at Old Trafford.
The arrival of Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao and Ander Herrera, they said, would force Mata out of the club, less than a year after joining from Chelsea. Mata, claimed various self-appointed experts, was to become a sacrificial lamb yet again, with Van Gaal determined to usher him out of the door much as Jose Mourinho did in January.
Of course, Mata might face stiff competition to nail his place down in the starting XI but his goal against QPR was his ninth in his last 11 games for United, hardly a disappointing return, particularly when one considers that three of those games were played in an experimental side at the beginning of this season.
Against QPR, Mata, starting in his favourite number 10 role, completed 98% of his attempted passes and drifted into the box with reassuring regularity, something United lacked last season, when the lack of movement up-front made it impossible for midfielders to find space into the box.
Time will tell where Mata will fit in Van Gaal’s plan, but it’s hard to imagine him becoming surplus to requirement any time soon.
4) Blind faith
Arguably the least exciting, at least on paper, of United’s summer signings, Blind was excellent on his debut in a red shirt, delivering the sort of performance a United midfielder hadn’t been capable of producing in a long time. The Dutchman looked calm, composed and organised in midfield, his contribution going almost unnoticed but extremely important for United’s shape and rhythm, as he completed 112 passes – the most out of any United players.
Of course, the likes of David Silva, Eden Hazard and Steven Gerrard would prove to be much more formidable opponents, but the early signs are that Blind could develop into United’s Xabi Alonso, a player who only gets noticed when he’s missing.
5) Louis’ attitude
United coasted to a 4-0 win and, after a couple of troubled weeks, one could have expected Van Gaal to be satisfied with the performance and praise his players. Instead, he said: “The result is fantastic but we can play a lot better – it’s a very good start. After September 1 we had only couple of days together before the internationals and players coming back with jet lag and so on. But we have made a very good new start.”
“When you have a 4-0 win then you can be happy as a coach but you always have faults you can improve. I said at half-time and after the match that I’m very happy because of the way we played – we were very dominant, we scored goals and a clean sheet was also very important.”
Anyone able to spot the difference from last season?