Darren Fletcher scores for Manchester United against QPR in the 3-1 win back in 2012
Manchester United host QPR in what is one of the most anticipated fixtures of recent seasons, with Luke Shaw, Radamel Falcao, Marcos Rojo and Daley Blind all set for their competitive debut. Angel Di Maria will also be playing his first game as a United player at Old Trafford as Louis van Gaal targets his first win as boss.
QPR have not won at Old Trafford since 1992, when Dennis Bailey netted a hattrick in the 4-1 thrashing on New Year’s Day. Harry Redknapp will be hoping to capitalise on United’s early poor season form, with the west London club a point ahead of van Gaal’s men. QPR have lost twice, to Hull City and to Tottenham Hotspur, but picked up a win in their previous fixture against Sunderland. The last time the away side traveled to Old Trafford was back in November 2012 where United ran out 3-1 winners.
1) Now the transfer window is done and dusted; are you happy with your business in and out of the club?
Yes and no. I’m an old romantic where I want to see the club put trust in its players over a long period of time and use the old school route of investing the time to coach and develop players for them to improve and realise their potential. That would make me happier than any signing.
The long term effects of doing that would help us attract the right type of players to the club for the right seasons for when you really need to bring in fresh blood. It also wins you the faith, loyalty and respect of your players.
But the reality is this – Rangers stopped doing that a long time ago and have ended up in a bit of a mess over the years with a maddening transfer policy that’s a bit like watching someone go wild on Football Manager.
So we’ve been a bit lop-sided as a result and struggled to shift the unwanted deadwood lying about the place, so it clearly needs re-shaping and for once, despite the calls for the club to calm down and not go crazy in the transfer market, this time they needed to do something.
And they’ve spent well, in market terms, but I still think it’s too expensive for a club like us. It’s been a summer of compromise, where everybody’s got a little something they wanted out of this window.
Tony Fernandes and Harry Redknapp have had their way and got in some big name players they wanted, which have raised the global profile in the case of Rio Ferdinand, to the tried and trusted in Sandro and Niko Kranjcar. And the fans have got a little of what they want, which is younger hungrier players with a point to prove, such as Steven Caulker, Jordon Mutch, Leroy Fer and Alex McCarthy.
Ferdinand’s a good egg all round, and his experience and professionalism is most likely needed at a club that’s lacked those ethics. He’s streetwise in the way that the club aren’t, so one hopes that rubs off well. Caulker has really impressed me in the short time he’s been here and obviously wanted to be mentored by Ferdinand, so that bodes well.
Kranjcar has been there and done it before in the Premier League, and he was already on loan with us last season, so his integration into the fold should be seamless and a no brainer.
We’ve also taken on a couple of loans, with Mauricio Isla coming in from Juventus and Eduardo Vargas from Napoli. They’re typical Redknapp punts and they’re expected to do well.
Redknapp’s done well this window. I think his experience and pulling power has been evident and the squad has benefited from that.
Danny Simpson, Loic Remy, Julio Cesar, Esteban Granero, Stephane Mbia, Yossi Benayoun, Andy Johnson, Gary O’Neil, Aaron Hughes and Luke Young were among some of the notable names to leave. Good riddance to most of them, it’s a shame we couldn’t have shifted one or two more on. Simpson was a casualty of signing Isla on loan, which was unfortunate and unlucky for him as he’s been great for us.
2) How would you sum up your opening three games of the season so far? And also the League Cup defeat?
It’s been a mixed start, but an interesting one. We came into the campaign looking to play a new 3-5-2 formation of sorts and has produced some nice football in the home games against Hull and Sunderland. We competed well in those matches and the football was certainly more pleasing on the eye than almost anything we dished out last season to get back here.
Part of that is because Ferdinand and Caulker are clearly much better on the ball and can help us transition from defence to midfield or attack a lot better, and the other of course, is the influence of Glenn Hoddle, who recently joined as first-team coach.
But, in typical QPR fashion, we’ve so far been atrocious away from home – the defeat to Spurs was as bad as any of our worst displays in recent years, so you can argue that the players still need time to adjust to the tactical demands and systems being asked of them. The Burton match was expected and a typically wasted opportunity to blood some youngsters.
The early concern is we’ve been experimenting with different formations and systems within the same match, particularly in repsonse to when things are not going our way. We’ve already seen variations of 3-5-2, 5-3-2, 4-4-2, 4-3-3 and 4-4-1-1 and using a back four as a fallback when things are pear shaped.
But I’ve enjoyed it.
3) Have you the right manager to lead you forward? Will he be there in May?
Redknapp will go if we get relegated, that’s nailed on, even if there is talks of a new contract on the horizon.
He’s never had a great relationship with the fans however, it’s a bit of a rocky one if you like. But I think he’s the right man for the job in the sense of what the owners want, which is short term instant success.
He was never the right appointment for the long term, but it’s a tough job at Rangers and I’m not sure who else out there could deliver what I’d really like to see anymore because of the way the club is run.
That doesn’t make Redknapp a bad manager though, he’s not. He’s a wily old fox and and excellent first-team manager, who has pulling power and can attract big names that excite the owners. There are plenty of players out there who enjoy playing for him as well, so that says something, and that’s what the owners are hoping rubs off on QPR.
4) Where do you think you’ll finish this season? Who will win the title? And who will go down?
I don’t really like doing predictions, but I think we have a better chance of survival this time around. Simply because there are a lot of teams that are fairly similar to one another or who are in transitional periods of their own, so it could be any of a large batch of teams to drop.
For me though, it’s always about building good healthy foundations for the club that can help improve performances consistently over time. It doesn’t matter if that’s done in the Premier League or the Championship. That’s how I measure success, and if it’s done right, then you’re a higher chance of maintaining a level of performance that gets you to where you want to be.
I still think Arsenal are going to win the title again some day. They were unlucky last season with some injuries, but they’ve been one of the most consistent performers both domestically and in Europe over the years.
5) All eyes will be on Manchester United’s new signings Sunday – what have you made of Di Maria, Falcao and Blind?
There are a few times when I’ve seen Di Maria play and he’s been really clumsy. But he’s got the athletism that you need, so I suspect he’ll do well and he may fit into English football more easily than some think. He’ll give you that directness you’ve lacked recently.
Falcao might be your Van Nistelrooy. It makes me wonder what van Gaal has in mind for Wayne Rooney. Personally I think Rooney should play in central midfield, I think he’s the perfect Paul Scholes replacement for both United and England.
Blind is Redknapp’s version of the tried and trusted, and he’s versatile, so maybe he’s going to be a cog in the wheel in a way you’ve done so well under Sir Alex Ferguson with so many players down the years, almost like a John O’Shea, but technically superior.
6) What have you made of United so far this season and Louis van Gaal’s three at the back?
It’s fascinating what’s happening at United. Three at the back is a huge change in direction, and is doable, but you need time and patience, but is it for the long term?
Even if he’s successful over a period of time, what happens when van Gaal goes? If he was replaced by Ryan Giggs somewhere down the line, surely Giggs is going to revert to type and what he knows?
But United can cope with technical and tactical changes, they’re the one club in this country that has done a spectacular job of seamlessly switching between different styles or systems depending on the opposition. That is really not easy – especially factoring in what’s needed home and abroad.
Van Gaal knows what he’s doing – he’s taking no prisoners. When you join a club late in the day like he has, you’ve not got a huge amount of time to work with the players and get to know them on a personal level as well as a football one.
His approach has a sick twist to it. He’s set you up in a way that has knowingly found out some of the players and I think that was entirely deliberate. He needed to make fast judgements based on football alone, so his approach has been somewhat brutal.
The MK Dons game was a shocker, but in some ways, and hear me out, it was cunning and smart. Van Gaal opted to put players in direct one versus one scenarios across the pitch, directly against their markers. He’s done this in some of the Premier League games too.
It’s the easiest way to find out what someone really has in their locker, and I think that’s shrewd as it exposes flaws and home truths, but also obviously high risk in terms of performances and results. He’s shifted those he thinks can’t cope and seen where the real weaknesses are.
I suspect he’ll settle that down a little bit in the future, but he’ll still want the players to be brave, capable and willing in those kind of duals. That’s where the players have to adapt and reach a standard.
But if he succeeds at what he’s trying to do, you’ll be a force to be reckoned with as there are not many sides in this country that will be able to cope with the system he plays, nor are opposing players used to being left exposed and having to deal with those kind of duals without support. But it’s a big ask and needs time, and you wonder if he’ll get that time?
The biggest problem he faces is buy in from the players. If he alienates too many of them, then he’s going to be a sitting duck. But that’s also why players like Blind are important to him, as well as smartly handing Wayne Rooney the captaincy to get him on board and keep him on side.
7) United shipped out Welbeck, Cleverly and Hernandez – good piece of business or not?
I think all three of those would bleed for the shirt, so in many ways no, but for their careers and business, yes.
I can’t see Hernandez returning unless van Gaal leaves. At his age, he’s in the peak years of his career, so if you’re not fancied then, when will you be?
I feel a bit sorry for Cleverley. I think he’s better than people give him credit for and he’s being unnecessarily picked on. He’s a casualty of United not having a stronger central midfield, because if he had someone like a Roy Keane or Scholes alongside him, he’d have come on fine.
Every club needs honest pros who are good cogs in the wheel and these guys were that for you in the same way as a John O’Shea was. Whether that’s a shift in philosophy remains to be seen though, but it might just be a case of you needed to freshen things up a bit and rattle a few doors. It’s a wake up call and nobody is safe, but that’s when United tend to perform at their best.
I expect Welbeck to do well at Arsenal.
8) QPR last won at United on New Year’s Day 1992, what are your memories of that famous Dennis Bailey hattrick?
Do we have all day? 🙂
To be honest, I just remember being absolutely delighted and amazed. It was Dennis Bailey’s only hat-trick of his career, but he had it in him to do that and is fondly remembered for it.
It was a proud moment for us, but by the same token, you hadn’t reached the heights of your dominance by that point as you were still searching for that elusive first league title. Sir Alex Ferguson has always been wary and well prepared for us ever since.
9) How do you feel you will lineup and what will be the final score?
Hard to know because of the players we’ve signed and the formations we’ve tried. I suspect 4-5-1 of sorts, or some hybrid of that system.
There could be a number of debutants for both sides, with Eduardo Vargas and Sandro waiting in the wings for us. Hoddle’s influence will be important and I’ve already noticed some tactical naunces of his creeping into the recent Sunderland game. We’ll need to be nice and compact and protect ourselves against counter attacks, which is an area we’ve been weak and vulnerable for many years. I hope we try to play though, rather than park the bus.
But I fully expect us to hand you the win you’ve been looking for to get your season up and running… 2-0 to you lot, maybe?
10) Lastly, if you could take one QPR player from history and drop them in the current day squad – who would it be and why?
Easy – Les Ferdinand. We’ve never been the same club or team since he left and we’ve never recovered from it and likely never will. Instead we’re morphing into a different kind of club, with a different identity and approach and one that’s not really fitting with the history and roots of QPR, which some say is needed and some say is a shame.