The latest tribute to Sir Alex Ferguson’s remarkable career was unveiled at a wet Old Trafford on Friday – a nine foot high statute placed at the entrance to the renamed Sir Alex Ferguson Stand. The opening ceremony, attended by the great and good of United’s past and present, is the latest in a series of tributes to the great manager as the winter of his career approaches.
Yet, there is some sad irony in celebrations of Ferguson’s greatness, coming at the end of a week in which his side has been anything but. Defeat to Galatasaray in the Champions League may not have damaged United, but that to Norwich City, domestically, certainly did. More worrying than a pair of 1-0 losses, though, is the insipid manner in which Ferguson’s side played this week, especially at Carrow Road.
United’s defending has been anything but optimal this season, leaving the Reds in genuine trouble should Ferguson’s multi-talented attacking unit fail as it did in East Anglia. Of course, despite two defeats in a week there’s no crisis at Old Trafford – with United qualified for the knockout stages in Europe, and second by a point at home, a fourth defeat of the season on Tuesday was far from fatal.
Good job, though, that Queens Park Rangers arrive at Old Trafford this weekend, with the Premier League’s worst team now managerless after Mark Hughes’ dismissal. With the visitors in disarray it should prove to be a comfortable victory for Ferguson’s side at Old Trafford, although few will be surprised if QPR’s hapless players turned up the work-rate for the first time this season. That old cliché about it being the visitors’ Cup Final certainly holds true.
Ferguson will have an almost fully fit squad too, with half a dozen players returning to the first team after sitting out the Champions League defeat in Turkey.
“Wayne Rooney is fit,” said Ferguson. “He had tonsillitis but has been training all week, which is good. Jonny Evans will hopefully train today but I don’t know if he will be available for tomorrow. Chris Smalling had a small shoulder injury on Tuesday night.
“I wanted to play Phil Jones anyway – at least the two of them are back because I thought Jones did very well in his first game back, which is really good news. Nani is not available yet, he’s not fit yet. He’s still got a little problem with his hamstring.”
Still, the real concern is no longer with injuries, although captain Nemanja Vidić and playmaker Shinji Kagawa may well not play this side of Christmas. Jonny Evans is back in training, but will not feature.
Yet, following a brace of losses Ferguson’s primary motive is for his team to find the winning formula once again. QPR’s current state-of-play should help United, although the Hoops now have little to lose in a game that everybody expects the hosts to win comfortably.
“Obviously last week was a massive disappointment for us,” said striker Rooney, who returns to the team following a bout of tonsilitis.
“After losing that one, this QPR game couldn’t have come quickly enough. We’re looking to get back out there in the league and try and get the three points. If we can get the three points, that will take us to the top again. It might only be for 24 hours but it’s always great to be there.
“QPR last season made it difficult for us. They went down to ten men early on and got players behind the ball and made it difficult. I’m sure it will be the same this season.”
QPR owner Tony Fernandes’ decision to dismiss Hughes this week, replacing the Welshman with out-of-work Harry Redknapp, came as little surprise, with the west London outfit picking up just four Premier League points this season.
Yet, the option to retain Hughes until Friday was met with bewilderment in some quarters, leaving Redknapp no time to take the reins before kick-off. The 65-year-old may watch the game from the stands, with Mark Bowen and Eddie Niedzwiecki taking charge for the game.
Former Red Park Ji-sung is unlikely to face his former club due to a knee problem, while Bobby Zamora and Andrew Johnson are also out. Loanee Fabio is ineligible.
“If you analyse things a little bit more closely, it’s probably a lesson to everyone that changing a team and bringing 11 new players in to the Premier League is not easy,” Ferguson added.
“But I am surprised they’ve only got four points. I didn’t expect them to immediately set a blazing trail or be up at the top of the league or anything like that with 11 new players to bed in. But they’ve only four points and of course that creates its own headlines.”
United supporters attending Old Trafford on Saturday will hope that the media will have a different story to tell than the Reds have faced in the past week. Indeed, with Manchester City not in action until Sunday, United will return to the Premier League summit should victory be achieved in a rare Saturday 3pm kick off.
Manchester United v QPR – Premier League, Old Trafford – Saturday 24 November 2012, 3.00pm
United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Rafael, Smalling, Ferdinand, Evra; Carrick, Scholes; Valencia, Rooney, Young; van Persie. Subs from: Lindegaard, Jones, Powell, Wootton, Buttner, Cleverley, Fletcher, Anderson, Hernandez, Welbeck, Henríquez.
QPR (4-5-1): Julio Cesar; Onouha, Ferdinand, Nelsen, Traore; Hoilett, Taarabt, Granero, Diakite, Faurlin; Cisse. Subs from: Cerny, Bosingwa, Green, Wright-Phillips, Dyer, Ehmer, Magri, Mackie, Derry, Ephraim, Harriman.
Referee: L Probert
Assistants: S Beck, S Child
Fourth official: G Eltringham
Head to Head
Last 10: United 9, QPR 0, Draw 1
Overall: United 30, QPR 6, Draw 13
- Rooney’s return at Old Trafford is welcome after the striker missed last week’s defeat a Norwich – the Scouser recorded the fastest average speed of any United player in the previous three games, including 4.65 mph against Aston Villa;
- Paul Scholes may now be the wrong side of 38, but the veteran has played more successful passes per minute than any other league player this season, according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index, with 277 in under nine hours of pitch time;
- Michael Carrick put in the passing performance of the season against Villa two weeks ago, completing 92 passes in the opponents half – however it was just 49 against Norwich;
- Passing may be United’s forté this season, but dribbling certainly isn’t – the Reds have just two of the top 100 top dribblers this season in Antonio Valencia and Luis Nani;
- The Hoops’ best hope of an upset may be Adel Taarabt, who has struck 20 shots on target this season – three more than Robin Van Persie – with the Algerian on the pitch for two thirds as many minutes as the Dutch striker;
- Esteban Granero will be equally key to QPR’s afternoon – the former Real Madrid player covered more miles than any of his teammates for the fourth league game in a row against Southampton, with a shift of 6.43 miles;
- If QPR is to take advantage of David De Gea’s perceived uncertainty in the air, the managerless team may have to put in a cross – Jose Bosingwa is the only QPR player to have put ten crosses into the box this season, while Everton’s Leighton Baines has chalked up 60;
- Unsurprisingly Ji Sung Park has topped the charts for distance run in four of his eight games so far this season, covering a total of 46.06 miles.