On Saturday afternoon, the day after a statue has been unveiled at Old Trafford for legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson, the gaffer's side will take on Queens Park Rangers in a Premier League clash. The two clubs met twice last season in the Premier League and during this same fixture in April of this year, goals from Wayne Rooney and Paul Scholes guided United to a 2-0 victory. During the reverse fixture at Loftus Road in December of last year, United won by the same scoreline after goals from Rooney and Michael Carrick.
Form Guide: United enter the weekend sitting second in the Premier League table with 27 points from 12 matches. They trail Manchester City by a point. The Red Devils have lost their past two fixtures and both by 0-1 scorelines -- one during the midweek at Galatasaray in the UEFA Champions League and one last weekend in league at Norwich City. In the European tie, however, Ferguson named a relatively inexperienced side after United had already clinched top spot in Group H prior to that encounter.
Team News: Nemanja Vidic, Shinji Kagawa, and Nani are expected to be out while Jonny Evans and David de Gea are questionable. Rooney is expected to have recovered from tonsillitis and he should be available for selection.
QUEENS PARK RANGERS
Form Guide: QPR have yet to win a league match and they are bottom of the table with just 4 points from 12 matches. Their most recent match occurred last weekend when they lost at home 1-3 to relegation rival Southampton.
Team News: Former United midfielder and current QPR captain Park Ji-sung is out due to a knee injury. Fabio is on loan to the London club from United and due to an agreement between the two clubs, the Brazilian full-back is unavailable to play versus his parent club. Bobby Zamora, Hogan Ephraim, and Andy Johnson are expected to be out as well.
* Update: QPR have sacked Mark Hughes -- this could obviously have an effect on lineup selection and tactics.
United: If de Gea is indeed still out due to his wisdom teeth recently being removed, then Anders Lindegaard will be in goal. Rio Ferdinand and Chris Smalling are the expected center-back pairing while they'll likely be flanked by Patrice Evra at left-back and Rafael at right-back.
In midfield, any two of Carrick, Scholes, Tom Cleverley, Ryan Giggs, and Anderson are possible. Out wide, Antonio Valencia is anticipated as the right-winger while Ashley Young or Danny Welbeck are in contention for the left flank. Up front, Robin van Persie will likely be partnered by Wayne Rooney but Javier Hernandez (Chicharito) is possible.
QPR: It's pretty rare when United come up against a side that is harder to predict a starting XI for than themselves. QPR's chaos this season, though, has resulted in a musical chairs of different lineups. Julio Cesar is their No.1 ( Rob Green sits on the bench collecting a reported £50,000/week in wages) while Jose Bosignwa and Armand Traore are the first-choice full-backs. Ryan Nelsen and Anton Ferdinand have been the first-choice center-backs for most of the season but Stephane M'Bia may be in contention.
In QPR's 4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1 system, Samba Diakite is expected in the double-pivot and he'll be partnered by either Alejandro Faurlin or Esteban Granero. Out wide to the right, though, Granero has been deployed there the past two weeks and he'll be in contention there along with Shaun Wright-Phillips. On the opposite left-side, Adel Taarabt is expected. Junior Hoilett is anticipated to pop up in behind lead striker Djibril Cisse but the versatile midfielder could be deployed on the flanks as well. Jamie Mackie is a long-shot to play in behind Cisse.
* QPR's basics: In the short time Mark Hughes has been at QPR, he's already brought in twenty different players. As you might suspect with that knowledge, it's been a work in process. To this day, Sparky still hasn't molded his side into what he desires. QPR for now, though, generally are a 4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1 side with their wide attackers often drifting inside. They try to play tricky and technical football in the attacking third. Cisse typically sits on the shoulder of the last defender and he often uses his pace to get in behind the defense. The secondary-striker/central-attacking-midfielder in behind Cisse tends to either drop deep into the space Cisse creates underneath or sometimes, this player often pushes high as well -- depending on what's going on in behind.
If QPR play more in a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 shape, then the full-backs tend to stay back while the support player to Cisse -- probably either Hoilett or Mackie on Saturday -- moves high. If they play more in a 4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1 shape, then this support striker drops deeper between the lines while the full-backs surge forward in order to provide width. In either shape, one of the two central-midfielders (likely to be Diakite or Granero) tends to be vertical in possession while the other (likely to be Faurlin) tends to sit deep and protect the back four against transitions.
* United need to either compact their lines or live with QPR roaming in between them: As just mentioned, QPR's wide attackers -- Taarabt, Granero, Hoilett, Park, and Wright-Phillps -- tend to drift inside from their somewhat initial wide positions. Sometimes this can overload the opposition in the central areas of the pitch but more often, this makes their attack narrow and predictable. This can be dangerous though for the oppositon.
There are a few obvious ways to contain this: (1) United can push their back four higher or the central-midfielders can sit deeper in order to compact the shape and clamp down on the space between the lines. Or (2), if United is concerned about -- let's say Rio being vulnerable on the turn versus Cisse's pace -- then they can gamble and keep the back four a few yards deeper. This would leave more space between the lines though. This is one of the tactical decisions Ferguson faces.
* QPR are vulnerable to quick transitions out wide: With their narrow shape in the front four, QPR can be dependent on their full-backs getting forward to provide width in attack. Bosingwa, in particular, is decent still going forward but he's never been a good defender. Perhaps this is why Park -- before he was hurt -- and Granero have been deployed on the right-side of QPR's attack as of late. These two midfielders are good defensively for midfielders and perhaps they're there to protect Bosignwa. QPR are still vulnerable on the flanks though.
On transitions, United should look to break out wide and this isn't too dissimilar to what they just did in recent matches versus Chelsea and Arsenal. In those specific matches against the London clubs, United continually transitioned down their right side and created 2 v 1 overloads with Valencia and Rafael. With Taarabt's tendency to be in central-positions when possession is lost by QPR, Valencia and Rafael seemingly will have opportunities to exploit QPR down their left and United's right.
* QPR are weak in aerial duels: To be blunt and simple, QPR are weak defending against aerial threats -- whether that be in open play or on set-pieces. United tend to cross the ball more than any other big side in England -- and perhaps on the continent -- so getting on the end of crosses is important. QPR's weakness in defending against this should be rather inviting. It will not be surprising to see Valencia and Young each attempt over ten crosses in this game. Rooney, RvP, and perhaps Chicharito as a substitute in the 2nd half can exploit this as they'll undoubtedly get chances from crosses. None of these forwards are physically imposing, but each have good heading technique and the ability to pop into pockets of space for attempts.
When Cesar gets the ball, United should be quick to close down the defenders and the deep-lying midfielders so that the goalkeeper is forced to punt the ball long. Cisse is not strong in the air and he should be well handled. This would likely result in the Brazilian goalkeeper punting wide and that's a far less dangerous area.
United can exploit QPR as well on set-pieces. The Red Devils are the joint leaders in the Premier League in scoring from set-pieces and no side has scored more goals from corners. Rio's brother,Anton, is nowhere as good as him in the air. Nelsen is only marginally better. Accurate whipped-in crosses from set-pieces should cause QPR trouble. Ferguson undoubtedly knows this and he'll hopefully have a few tricks up his sleeve for dead-ball situations.
KO: 3:00pm GMT, 10:00am EST | Old Trafford
LIVE TV: none (U.K.), FOX Soccer (U.S.)
REFEREE: Lee Probert
ODDS: Manchester United 1/7, Draw 13/2, Queens Park Rangers 16/1