Louis van Gaal can breathe a sigh of relief as his new signings propelled his squad towards a much needed first win of his Manchester United managerial career.
With players returning from injury, Marcos Rojo finally acquiring a work permit, Rademel Falcao and Daley Blind available for selection, questions arose regarding whether Van Gaal would stick with the 5-3-2 formation or adopt a new tactic to cater to the new signings. For the moment, Van Gaal reverted back to a four-man defence with Rafael and Rojo in the fullback position, while Evans and Blackett played centrally. In the middle, Van Gaal went with a diamond shape; Daley Blind was the sole pivot, Angel di Maria and Ander Herrera manned the flanks, with the latter returning from injuries, and Mata – whose inclusion came under question with the Falcao signing – was head of the diamond. Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie remained the two main strikers in a 4-4-2, meaning Falcao would make an appearance off the bench.
United dominated possession for a large portion of the match, and utilized their width as an attacking venue. The return of Rafael and the inclusion of Rojo at the fullback position brought an element to the attack that United had been lacking playing with wingbacks. With Young and Valencia, you have two natural wingers forced to adapt to a new role. During the first three games, they were both reluctant to insert themselves into the attack while having defensive responsibilities. Rafael eagerness to assist on the attack became problematic for QPR skipper Clint Hill, as he was able to get clear of the latter on numerous occasions through great movement and passing with Herrera.
The Argentine duo of Rojo and Di Maria made life frightful for Matt Phillips and Mauricio Isla on the left flank. The pace and direct attacking of Di Maria became too much for the Juventus man, on loan, to deal with. Phillips incompetence to provide cover for Isla made his job more difficult when United broke on the counter.
QPR’s failure to apply any pressure enabled United’s midfield four ample amounts of time on the ball. Daley Blind was very composed as a single cover for the back four, though he was rarely tested, due to a lack of movement in United’s defensive end. It has been long since United have had a defensive midfielder who was able to dictate the tempo of a game like Owen Hargreaves, and with Blind, he could just be that player. He was very influential, completing 96% of his passes (107/112), 65 more completed passes than the top passer on QPR – which coincidentally was former United skipper, Rio Ferdinand, who was 42 of 51.
Di Maria’s contribution in the game would solidify his massive transfer price as he played a part in three of the four goals. His unexpected set-piece goal which sailed into the net in the 24th minute was the beginning of his day, not to mention it being the first for the club, to the scuffed shot which found an unmarked Juan Mata in the six-yard box.
United in the final third were quite inventive. Mata and van Persie were able to inch into little pockets of space between the backline to break free at times, with the latter unable to capitalize on a couple chances. Rio Ferdinand and Steven Caulker were at times flat-footed, and inattentive of their surroundings, thus leading to conceded space in which the players mentioned would benefit from.
The start of the second half seemed to have given Rednapp’s men some urgency to get forward. The introduction of Armand Traore, brought on to replace Steve Hill, changed the dynamics of their attack. Steven Hill was anonymous in the opening 45 minutes. He was more of a liability defending than he was a threat in the attack. In Traore, you have a fullback that looks to attack, which reveals his defensive frailties. He made an instant impact minutes into the second half; taking the ball into United’s end. Traore’s individualism wasn’t enough to drive QPR as their attacks lack cohesion and invention.
The opposition wasn’t much of a test for the new looking Manchester United squad, but with this fantastic performance, opposing teams should fear walking on the pitch of Old Trafford once again.