Top versus bottom in the Premier League and another comfortable victory for Manchester United as Sir Alex Ferguson’s team marches towards another Premier League title. That is, of course, the most comfortable of scripts – one that United has not always read with ease this season. And with Queens Park Rangers fighting an unlikely battle for Premier League survival, the home side should be no pushover as United travels to London this weekend.
Indeed, Harry Redknapp’s team has secured draws with Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City, and victory over Chelsea, since the new manager’s January arrival. Yet, heavy defeat to Swansea City two weeks ago and an embarrassing loss against MK Dons in the FA Cup have also come despite the millions lavished on the team during the winter transfer window.
Chairman Tony Fernandes’ investment seems unlikely to save QPR though, with the Hoops some 23 points away from the 40 that is normally required to secure Premier League status. Six victories over the next 12 games could be enough; the problem comes with QPR’s record of just two wins in the league season to date.
Meanwhile, United continue to tick off games, protecting a lead that has now stretched to 12 points over neighbours Manchester City. With Ferguson’s squad in pretty good health, despite a heavy schedule in recent weeks, the 71-year-old says that competition for places will drive United towards success, with the Reds still chasing three trophies this season.
“Against Real Madrid they all wanted to play and that’s fantastic – it’s a measure of their faith and confidence in themselves,” said Ferguson on Friday.
“And I thought they acquitted themselves well against Reading. Their hunger and attitude to the game was great and we deserved to go through.
“At this club, and particularly in the situation we’re in at the moment, anything can happen in the run-in. Players can suddenly find themselves playing in a final or an important league game because that’s the squad I have. I think they sense this could be a big year for them.”
Ferguson is likely to refresh his side once again following United’s victory over Reading in the FA Cup on Monday night. Robin van Persie will come will come back into the Scot’s team, although strike partner Wayne Rooney is still absent with a sinus problem. Phil Jones and Paul Scholes remain injured, while Nemanja Vidic may rotate back to the bench after featuring in the FA Cup.
Meanwhile, Nani, who starred in the Cup on Monday, could keep his place in the side despite rarely featuring this season. While most pundits and many supporters believe that the Portuguese winger will leave the club in the summer, with a new contract as yet unsigned, Ferguson says that he is determined to keep the winger.
“We want to keep him, there’s no doubt about that,” said Sir Alex.
“He’s capable of scoring incredible goals. His goal against Everton, when he dinked the keeper after playing a couple of one-twos, was incredible. And the goal against Tottenham the year before, where he dinked the goalkeeper after playing a one-two, was another one.
“The boy has an incredible talent for winning matches. He’s one of the best match-winners in the game, and I include the whole of Europe in that.
“It’s entirely up to the boy – he has a year and a half left. I think he wants guaranteed first-team football. He can guarantee himself that. Performances like the other night can guarantee that. We’re trying our best to keep him because he’s such a match-winner.”
Meanwhile, QPR manager Redknapp is likely to be without new striker Loic Remy who has a groin strain. Junior Hoilett and Samba Diakite fit again, but Bobby Zamora is unlikely to be risked after suffering a serious hip problem this season. Former Red Park Ji-Sung should play, although Fabio da Silva is ineligible to face his parent club.
QPR’s 4-1 defeat to Swansea diverted the Hoops’ campaign off track again after an improvement in form under Redknapp. QPR has lost just once in the past six, although United’s record of nine victories in the past 10 meetings between these sides points to another away victory. After all, Ferguson’s team hasn’t lost at Loftus Road since the 1980s.
Still, QPR’s desperate state should guarantee an honest effort from the hosts, with defensive solidity Redknapp’s policy in the past two months.
“QPR have done well recently,” said United striker Danny Welbeck.
“I think they’ve been setting up with two banks of four, making it difficult to break them down. They’re just getting behind the ball and obviously it’s been hard for teams to score goals against them. But hopefully we’ll have our tactics right on the day and will try to get some goals.”
After all, Ferguson’s side has never failed to score at Loftus Road in the Premier League.
Queens Park Rangers v Manchester United – Premier League, Loftus Road – 3pm, 23 February 2013
QPR (4-5-1): Julio Cesar; Onuoha, Samba, Hill, Traore; Derry, Park Ji-sung, Taarabt, Jenas, M’bia; Mackie. Subs from: Green, Ben-Haim, Wright-Phillips, Granero, Zamora, Bothroyd, Townsend.
United (4-2-3-1): de Gea, Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Nani, Cleverley, Carrick, Kagawa; Welbeck, van Persie. Subs from: Lindegaard, Smalling, Vidić, Büttner, Valencia, Powell, Anderson, Giggs, Young, Hernández.
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Assistants: P Kirkup, G Beswick
Fourth official: N Swarbrick
Head to Head
Last 10: QPR 0, United 9, Draw 1
Overall: QPR 6, United 31, Draw 13
- Julio Cesar has garnered good reviews since joining QPR – the Brazilian has made 107 saves in 1687 minutes this season according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index;
- Much of the creative responsibility for QPR falls to Adel Taarabt who has made 41 dribbles, 26 crosses and five assists this season;
- The Moroccan has almost made 77 attempts on goal – almost as many as the next three most prolific shooters in the QPR squad combined at 87;
- Rafael da Silva may not face his brother Fabio on Saturday, but the United defender is having a fine season – he has racked up 84 defensive contributions, as well as completing 443 passes in the opponent’s half;
- Fellow defender Jonny Evans continues to excel and, disrupting the established centre-half partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic – the Irishman also boasts the best tackle ratio of any United player with 68 per cent from 28 challenges;
- Meanwhile, Robin van Persie has scored 19 goals this season – one from every 4.63 attempts on goal;
- Partner Wayne Rooney has completed the third highest number of passes in the opponent’s half in the United squad with 471.