Well, we've seen this script before. For about an hour, Manchester United were rubbish and went down to a clearly inferior team before turning it on late with a surge of goals. It's been a chaotic week for bottom-of-the-table Queens Park Rangers and while it's not unexpected that Mark Hughes was sacked as manager after going winless from his side's opening twelve Premier League matches this season, that he was relieved of his duties just yesterday -- a day before a match at Old Trafford -- was a bit surprising. By all accounts, the Ukraine FA approaching Harry Redknapp forced QPR's hand. With this context in mind, it also surprising how well organized QPR were in the opening hour.
The away side sat deep at Old Trafford with ten men behind the ball and at times, they even sat off of United's deepest-lying midfielders. The home side dominated possession but they lacked enough incisiveness. A few shots tested QPR goalkeeper Julio Cesar early but in general, United were too narrow in attack and as the game wore on, they became increasingly vulnerable to QPR's transitions when possession was lost. This vulnerability, which was exacerbated by the lack of mobility of Paul Scholes and Darren Fletcher and their inability to guard so much space (this is more an indictment on United's shape and personnel combinations rather than on either midfielder), is clearly United's weakness at the moment. In the 52nd minute, after a corner, Jamie Mackie finished from close range to put Rangers ahead. This prompted changes.
In the 59th minute, Sir Alex Ferguson decided to bring on Javier Hernandez (Chicharito) and Anderson for Ashley Young and Paul Scholes. The substitutes had an immediate impact. First though, it was Jonny Evans that scored an equaliser in the 64th minute from a corner. Danny Welbeck knocked down a corner and because QPR had a man on the post playing Evans onside, the defender was able to finish while sitting just in front of Cesar's goal (see, there are perils to both man-marking and zonal-marking).
Minutes later, in the 68th minute to more precise, Fletcher hammered home a header from a Wayne Rooney corner. Three minutes after that, Anderson powerfully carried the ball forward from midfield before slipping a perfect through-ball for Chicharito. Robin van Persie made a clever run to the right to drag a defender with him and this opened up space for the Mexican international. As one might expect, Chicha clinically right-footed his attempt into the lower right corner. This essentially put the game out of reach for the visitors.
Both sides had more chances towards the game's end, especially United. QPR, though, nearly scored late from a corner but it was Rafael on the post that cleared an attempt on goal (see, again, there are clear pros and cons to both man-marking and zonal-marking -- and even a hybrid marking system). When the final whistle blew, it was a 3-1 victory for United. For now, the Red Devils top the table but Manchester City have a game in hand. The 'noisy neighbours' visit Stamford Bridge tomorrow to take on Chelsea and their newly appointed interim-manager Rafa Benitez (although, every manager under Roman Abramovich is essentially 'interim').
Enjoy the weekend folks! Next up is West Ham United on Wednesday. We'll have all of your coverage ahead of that league fixture with Big Sam's side.