United can return to the top of the table, even if only for a few hours, as they travel to Loftus Road to play QPR for the first time in the league in over 15 years. United have been decimated by injuries lately but a very strong performance last weekend at Wolves hints at potentially better things to come.
As we close in on the halfway point in the season, Neil Warnock’s QPR side are in a decent position. They’re 13th with 16 points from their 15 games; just a win from the top half of the table but also a couple of defeats from the relegation zone. For a team with such wealthy backers in recent years they’ve not spent much money. That said, last transfer window represented their most expensive summer yet with just over £10m spent on players. That cash went on just five players – Anton Ferdinand, Luke Young, DJ Campbell, Armand Traore and most of it on Shaun Wright-Phillips.
Amongst the incoming players, there were six free signings – experienced but crocked Kieron Dyer, the England-capped (arf!) Jay Bothroyd; and impressively, Joey Barton. On the whole, they’ve signed well and without breaking the bank. Their squad potentially lacks depth, or more specifically, quality in reserve.
QPR’s inconsistency may end up being their downfall. They seem to often play well but are unable to pick up regularly good results. A draw at home to struggling Blackburn for example preceded an impressive win over Chelsea. This game will be the first of two in a row that United play in the capital with Fulham to come on Wednesday.
Despite losing in Basel and at home to Crystal Palace, United’s league form is joint best in the league with Arsenal over the last six games. Five wins and a draw have seen them move right up behind City and with a nice enough looking fixture schedule coming up, things may continue to improve. United’s away form is at present better than their home form. A win would be their 6th on the road and one more than they managed last year.
United have the best away league defence – just three goals conceded in seven games (next best are Chelsea with six). However, goals haven’t come easily; not since the 10th of September have they scored more than once away from home in the league.
QPR seem to travel better than when they play in front of their own fans. They’ve only picked up 7 points in their home games compared to 9 away from home. Their one win at home was over Chelsea and have the worst scoring record at home – just six in their seven games.
United’s poor luck with injuries has continued with the news that Darren Fletcher is out for an unspecified period of time with an illness. He joins Vidic, Fabio, Owen, Hernandez, Cleverley and Anderson in being unavailable. Gibson is a doubt with a knock whilst Rafael is in training again. There is better news up front, Berbatov is fit again although may find himself on the bench after Welbeck and Rooney’s good showing last week.
QPR seem certain to be without Hulse and Dyer. Otherwise they only have a few doubts – Connolly and (Anton) Ferdinand the biggest two with Kenny and Taarabt slightly closer to action.
United formation and starting XI prediction:
Pretty simple team to explain this week – I see no need to change anything after last week against Wolves. The only consideration might be whether to play Giggs instead of Welbeck and let him have a free role behind Rooney. The key seems to be out wide – Valencia and Nani were very dangerous and can certainly hurt QPR. Brief explanation but stick to what works.
Resurgent Barton – his Twitter might be impressively honest and he might be incredibly dislikeable but QPR’s captain has been a key cog for them since he signed in the summer.
Barton wasn’t keen on leaving Newcastle but was allegedly pushed out of the door. One might have thought he’d be a great addition to their central area, adding bite and drive to their team. However, he’s often been found out wide for them, even swapping sides with Shaun Wright-Phillips at times and naturally coming infield.
Barton’s not so much transformed himself but has adapted for sure. He’s become something of a leader, almost mellowing a bit with the responsibility. His performances, unsurprisingly have been solid and he’s proving his worth to the team. United shouldn’t focus on him specifically, but if they can frustrate him, isolate him and play around him then they’ll have a good chance of dominating the game. Maybe, given his past performances against United, Shaun Wright-Phillips is the natural danger-man; but there’s no doubting that Barton on the pitch is crucial to help inspire those around him play better.
History and last meeting:
From 1973/74 through to 1995/96 this was quite a common fixture. Up until October 1968, United and QPR had never met in the league, only in the Charity Shield at the turn of the 20th century. This will be only the 39th league meeting between the two sides and the 9th in the Premier League – United have a winning record across all competitions. In the Premier League fixtures, QPR haven’t beaten United and on average they’ve lost every game 2-1. The last time QPR won at home vs. United was in May 1989.
This fixture has thrown up just 1 goalless draw and United have kept just two clean sheets compared to QPR’s five. United have never scored more than three goals at Loftus Road against QPR and on four occasions this fixture has produced five goals.
Last time the sides met was in November 2008 in the League Cup fourth round at Old Trafford – a Carlos Tevez penalty proved the difference. In March 1996 a Cantona goal got a 1-1 draw at QPR in the league. United have been to Loftus Road since though – in both 2002/03 and 2003/04 they played Fulham there, drawing 1-1 both times.
United’s away form is very good; not necessarily ruthless but it’s organised and the defence have been somewhat impenetrable. Building on the Wolves result from last week will hopefully see an unchanged side named and safe in the knowledge that a win could propel them back to the top until City host Arsenal; I predict a 2-0 United win.
Howard Webb – *insert joke about United having a 12th man*. He was in charge for United’s crushing 8-2 over Arsenal and has taken charge of one QPR game too. Webb’s given 38 yellow cards out so far and tends to slightly favour the home side. He’s not afraid to book players early either, only giving slightly less out in the first half of games compared to the second half.
At a stretch – the Ferdinand brothers up against each other!
– No league side has kept a clean sheet against United yet this season
– QPR have lost four of their last six league games
– The last time QPR beat United, Dennis Bailey scored a hat-trick
Ferguson on going to QPR: “I always enjoy going to Queens Park Rangers. It’s always a good atmosphere and we used to be able to get a bigger support than normal. They used to give us one section – the one behind the goal and then part of the side, which always meant we had about 6,000 fans.”
Ferguson on Warnock’s spending: “Queens Park Rangers have invested the right way. Neil Warnock realised that when you get into the Premier League you need big players. That gives them a better chance because it’s an unremitting league in terms of the demands, particularly for teams coming out of the Championship.”
Warnock on facing United: “I just think it’s exciting, it’s what I’m in the game for and the fans are and the club. I’m just looking forward to the game so much. We will try and get a result because that’s how we are.”
Mackie warns United: “United are champions, with top, top players, so we are going to give them the respect they deserve, but we are at home and definitely not going there to have a nice day and let them play top football against us. We are going to be in their faces, it is going to be a hard game for them- they are definitely going to know they have been in a game.”
For all pre-match banter, tactical discussions, team and score predictions click here.
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