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MATCH PREVIEW: Queens Park Rangers vs. Manchester United

Nani has been in tremendous form as of late.
Nani has been in tremendous form as of late.

Manchester United travel south to West London for a lunchtime Premier League affair on Sunday with Queens Park Rangers. The Hoops are a promoted side after going top of the Championship table last season. The last time these two met in league was in 1996 when QPR last played in England's top tier of football. 2008 was the last time these two met in any competition when United defeated QPR 1-0 in a Carling Cup clash. On Sunday, it will have been eight days since United last competed but QPR represents the first match of five during an upcoming eighteen day span -- the congested holiday fixture list will require a squad.


* Form Guide: The past weekend saw United defeat Wolverhampton Wanderers 4-1 at Old Trafford. With Manchester City's loss to Chelsea FC at Stamford Bridge on Monday, this allowed the Reds to pull within two points of the leaders, City. United have gone six successive league games unbeaten but prior to their 4-goal outing versus Wolves, their past 7 league outings -- and 8 of their past 9 -- saw them only score a single goal in those matches. The club's away form has been impressive as their 17 point haul in 7 away matches represents the best away record in the league. In European competition, the Reds will face Ajax in the Europa League's Round of 32 come February.

* Team News: There is a plethora of injuries at the club but let's start with the good news: Dimitar Berbatov has been declared fit for this match and Rafael has returned to training. Now with the bad news: Javier Hernandez (Chicharito), Michael Owen, Tom Cleverley, Anderson, Darren Fletcher, Fabio, and Nemanja Vidic are all unavailable for this match. Darron Gibson is possible to miss this match as well.


* Form Guide: QPR come into the match sitting 13th in the league table. Manager Neil Warnock's side have surprisingly shown better form away from Loftus Road as the Hoops have only earned a single victory there in 7 tries. QPR competed well last weekend at Anfield but they still came away without a result versus Liverpool FC during their 1-0 loss. Their most impressive result this season is undoubtedly their 1-0 derby victory over 9-man Chelsea in October.

* Team News: Just as they have at United, injuries have piled up for QPR. Midfielder Keiron Dyer was ruled out for the season on Friday due to surgery required on his injured foot. No. 1 goalkeeper Patrick Kenny has missed matches recently and his availability for Sunday is in question. Defender Anton Ferdinand -- brother of United's Rio Ferdinand -- has a hamstring issue but it is anticipated that he will still feature. The likes of DJ Campbell, Adel Taarabt, Heidar Helguson, and Robert Hulse have all sustained knocks their availability is uncertain.


* MUFC: For United, the numerous injuries narrows down the selection choice options for manager Sir Alex Ferguson. In goal, No. 1 David De Gea is expected as is Rio Ferdinand at center-back and Patrice Evra at left-back. Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling, and Phil Jones are all options to partner Ferdinand but the latter two are also the two most viable options at right-back. In central-midfield, Jones has formed a nice partnership with Michael Carrick in recent weeks and this is the possible midfield duo on Sunday. Ryan Giggs is certainly an option as well. Out wide, Antonio Valencia was brilliant last weekend on the right flank and he's a candidate to start there again. Nani is almost a certain starter: he likely features on the left if Valenica is chosen as the right-winger or he could start on the right if Ashley Young is deployed on the left-flank. Up front, Wayne Rooney is an automatic selection and he likely will be partnered by either Danny Welbeck or Berbatov.

* QPR: In goal, the choice is Radek Cerny if No. 1 Kenny is not deemed fit. However, Cerny has been in fine form as of late and he could feature anyway. In central defense, Ferdinand and Daniel Gabbidon are the first-choice pairing as is Luke Young at right-back. At left-back, Armand Traore is typically first-choice but if he is deployed higher up the pitch, then Clint Hill is a possibility. Warnock generally fields his side in either a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 shape, therefore, the use of three players near the center of the park is typical. Alejandro Faurlin and Joey Barton are first-choice as the two deeper-lying midfielders. The candidates for the most advanced central player are Shaun Wright-Phillips and Jay Bothroyd. If Warnock desires a deeper-lying third midfielder, Shaun Derry is a strong candidate is a possibility. If fit, Helguson likely starts as the center-forward but Bothroyd could deputise if needed. Wright-Phillips and Taarabt are candidates to start on the left flank in attack while Wright-Phillips or Jamie Mackie is likely on the right flank in attack.


* QPR's long-balls out of the back: Whether it's Kenny or Cerny in goal, both have a tendency to send the ball long. It appears to be a conscious tactic to hoof it long for the attackers, specifically Helguson and Bothroyd. The former wins 4.4 aerial duels per match while the latter wins 3.4 per match. From here, QPR like to get their tricky attackers -- such as Wright-Phillips and Taarabt -- to run onto knockdowns. In addition, QPR's center-backs tend to hoof the ball long often as well. There appears to be little intention to work the ball out of the back. United will need to do two things against this tactic: (1) Quite obviously, their defenders and central-midfielders will need to be prepared for the consistent aerial duels. The likes of Ferdinand, Evans, Smalling, Jones, and Carrick will be key. (2) Also, United's attackers will need to pressure QPR's defenders and goalkeeper when they have the ball at their feet so that they can help force inaccurate longballs being played.

* QPR's pressing game: QPR typically press intently as they look to close down their opponents high up the pitch Their 14.1 tackles won per game, good for 3rd in the league, can attest to their propensity to engage their counterparts. United's defenders and deep-lying midfielders are key because they will need to move the ball quickly and accurately in order to find relief from this pressure. Ferdinand and Carrick, who are both strong on the ball, may be the key players for United against this tactic. Rooney's ability to drop deep to link the midfield and attack is also an important outlet for a quick transition into attack as gaps may open up in this space when QPR press.

* Close down Barton & Faurlin: Faurlin is the deeper-lying of the two but he is able to ignite attacks from the back -- his 5.6 accurate long balls and 1.6 key passes per game attests to this. By comparison, Barton is tasked with being a bit more incisive: he leads his side with 3 assists in league play, 2.2 key passes per game, and 1.9 accurate crosses per game. In addition, he also is capable of hitting an accurate ball long down the flanks for QPR's wide players. Jones' energy could be useful here so that he can close down Barton. In addition, Rooney's work-rate may be needed to get goalside of Faurlin when United are out of possession.

* Be incisive in attack & clinical with finishing: United found a nice balance in attack last week: Valencia provided direct play down the right touchline while Nani, Rooney, and Evra teamed up nicely to provide fluid and interchangeable play on the left side. In addition, Carrick pulled the strings in midfield while Jones complimented him well by being combative and with driving runs. It could be argued that United's attack looked comparable versus Newcastle United and Benfica at Old Trafford. However, they weren't as clinical with their finishing -- although being unlucky and a superb Tim Krul played a big part versus Newcastle. The Reds will likely be able to create chances against an unimpressive QPR defense but can they finish them?

KO: Sunday |12:00pm GMT, 7:00am EST | Loftus Road

TV: ESPN (U.K.), Fox Soccer Plus (U.S.), (internet)

Odds: QPR 6/1, Draw 3/1, Manchester United 1/2

TBB Prediction: QPR 1-2 Manchester United