Manchester United turn their attention back to the Premier League when they face Queens Park Rangers on Saturday in London at Loftus Road. During the reverse fixture in November at Old Trafford, Jamie Mackie put Rangers ahead early in the second-half before United roared back with goals from Jonny Evans, Darren Fletcher, and Javier Hernandez (Chicharito).
Form Guide: United currently sit top of the league table with 65 points from 26 matches. This is 12 points clear of nearest title-contending rival Manchester City. Sir Alex Ferguson's side are on a fine run of results in all competitions as they haven't been defeated in a meaningful contest since mid-November. Their most recent match was a 2-1 FA Cup defeat of Reading last weekend and they'll face either Middlesbrough or Chelsea in that competition's quarter-final. In Europe, United currently are engaged in a two-legged tie with Spanish giants Real Madrid. In the opening leg at the famed Bernabeu, the Reds earned a hard-fought 1-1 result.
Team News: Darren Fletcher (ulcerative colitis), Paul Scholes (knee), and Phil Jones (ankle) are all unavailable. Wayne Rooney (sinus problem) is also a doubt. [Full Team News Report]
QUEENS PARK RANGERS
Form Guide: QPR sit bottom of the table with just 17 points from 26 matches. Harry Redknapp's side has only been defeated twice since the new year but the majority of their recent results have been draws. Their last fixture was a 1-4 league defeat by Swansea City on February 9.
Team News: Andy Johnson and Jose Bosignwa have been ruled out. Julio Cesar, Junior Hoilett, and Loic Remy are injury concerns as well. Fabio won't feature due to the loan agreement between QPR and United.
United: David de Gea is anticipated in goal and in front of him in defense is likely to be Rio Ferdinand, Rafael, and Patrice Evra. Either Jonny Evans or Nemanja Vidic will probably partner Ferdinand in central-defense.
In midfield, Michael Carrick will start and he'll likely be partnered by either Tom Cleverley or Anderson. Out wide, either Nani or Antonio Valencia is anticipated on the right and on the left, any of Nani, Ashley Young, Ryan Giggs, Danny Welbeck, or Shinji Kagawa are possible.
Up front, Robin van Persie will start and he'll probably be partnered by either Kagawa or Chicharito.
QPR: If fit, Julio Cesar will be between the posts. The back four is expected to consist of captain Clint Hill, Christopher Samba, Armand Traore, and Nedum Onuoha. In central-midfield, Shaun Derry and Stephane M'Bia are probable.
Out wide in attack, any of Jamie Mackie, Andros Townsend, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Adel Taarabt, Junior Hoilett, or Park Ji-sung are possible. Up front as the lead striker, all of Taarabt, Mackie, Loic Remy, or Bobby Zamora are in contention. In behind the lead striker, Taarabt, Park, Esteban Granero, or Jermaine Jenas are all candidates.
In summary, the back six is pretty predictable but Redknapp has all sorts of possibilities for his front four. Taarabt and Mackie seem a good bet to start somewhere in attack though.
Diagram 1: Possible starting XI's for QPR and United.
* The basics of QPR: Under former manager Mark Hughes, QPR attempted to play a short-passing game and possession was somewhat emphasized. Under Redknapp though, the London side are much more disciplined defensively in their functional 4-4-1-1 system. In the double-pivot, QPR now deploy the combative and energetic Derry and M'Bia rather than more technical players. In addition, they tend to keep their lines deeper as they often defend on the edge of their penalty area. Prior to conceding the 4 goals to Swansea City, Rangers had only conceded 1 goal in their 5 previous league matches. That's pretty impressive when you consider that Chelsea, Spurs, and City were 3 of their opponents.
QPR might do well to prevent goals from being scored against them, but they also struggle scoring goals themselves. The deep-defending back six often doesn't offer enough support to the front four and chances are sometimes created when Taarabt -- in a free sort of role -- can create something out of nothing. Besides the Moroccan, there isn't a lot of creativity in attack as Redknapp seems to prefer hard-working types like Mackie.
* United should have time on the ball -- hopefully they'll do something with it: Even though Redknapp needs wins in order for QPR to avoid the drop, this encounter with United is one he'd likely be very satisfied with a draw from. It's expected that his side will sit deep, keep their shape compact, and be difficult to break down. United will likely dominate possession and have time on the ball. Hopefully they actually do something with it (unlike Barcelona's sterile possession at the San Siro on Wednesday).
Whether it's through astute switches in the point of attack, quick combinations in the attacking third, and/or intelligent movement off the ball, United will need to find a way to pull QPR out of their shape in order for them to penetrate into the penalty area for chances. Carrick will have to dictate the passing rhythm from deep and be aware of when more probing passes need to be played or when the tempo needs to be upped. His midfield partner -- likely to be either Cleverley or Anderson -- will need to effectively carry the ball from midfield into attack. The front four should look for ways to make clever runs in behind the defense and when they do, hopefully their direct runs will be rewarded with clever passes.
* Loftus Road's narrow pitch: In an interview with United's official site this week, former United and QPR defender Paul Parker expressed concern about the narrowness of Loftus Road's pitch. Specfically, he mentioned how this is troublesome for wingers:
"It’s very tough at QPR as it’s a small ground and it helps them. I tell you why they keep so many clean sheets there: it’s because if a team’s great strength is out wide then it kills them."It’s why wingers have always struggled at QPR. The only player with any width who did well in my time there was Andy Sinton but that’s because he had other things about him rather than staying on the touchline. It’s a very narrow pitch. It’s as simple as that and it’s very easy to defend there."
This perhaps might be a good match for the out-of-form Valencia to be given a rest while Nani -- who was highly impressive in the 2-1 win over Reading on Monday -- may be better suited for this game. The Portuguese winger provides genuine width and can beat his marker to the outside while he also does well to make himself available near the touchline. He also, though, excels cutting inside for 'one-twos' and he's always a threat to fire on goal -- with either foot. Nani has what Parker describes as 'other things about him rather than staying on the touchline.'
KO: 3:00pm GMT, 10:00am EST | Loftus Road
Live TV: None (U.K.), FOX Soccer (U.S.)
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Odds: Queens Park Rangers 6/1, Draw 3/1, Manchester United 1/2