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Manchester United Coast To First Win Of Season With Defeat Of QPR

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IT has taken longer than they would have liked but, finally, there is the sense that Manchester United have turned up. They have taken their time and the margin of victory has to be put into context when the opponents are so desperately anaemic, but it is a start and even a man of Louis van Gaal’s cavernous self-belief will be relieved to have his first Premier League win.

His team played at times as though they had suddenly remembered what is expected of a United side once they pull on those red shirts. They were quick, incisive and demonstrated a speed of thought that was simply too much for a team with QPR’s limitations.

Van Gaal described it as a “new start” and talked of his intention to return the league championship to Old Trafford. If that sounds far-fetched for this season, this was at least a performance to encourage the belief that maybe the club are now back on an upward curve.

Ángel di María, with the opening goal and a performance combining high skill and hard running, certainly wasted little time ingratiating himself with his new audience. Yet the extra surge of optimism was not just conjured up by the player with the £59.7m price tag.

Ander Herrera’s accomplished performance brought him his first goal for his new club. Wayne Rooney scored a cracker and the returning self-belief should be further enhanced by the fact that all four goals arrived before that point in the second half when the electronic board went up to usher in Radamel Falcao, superstar.

Falcao, restricted to a substitute’s role after his midweek game for Colombia, started warming up to raucous acclaim after 58 minutes and the Stretford End was still on its feet when Di María picked out Juan Mata to lash in the fourth goal. Old Trafford, for the first time in a while, felt like a happy, optimistic place and the only minor disappointment, perhaps, was that Falcao could not beat Rob Green when he had a late chance to join in the scoring.

When Falcao did replace Mata, he was wearing one pink boot and one blue. QPR were already confused but Green was quickly off his line to deny him a debut goal.

Too much can be read into one match, of course, and maybe the time to make more rounded judgments will be later in the autumn when Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal provide the opposition. Yet the last year has been such an ordeal at Old Trafford they will cherish what it felt like to be reminded of the old United. Van Gaal withdrew the 3-4-1-2 system that had plodded its way through the opening weeks of this season and there was a much more natural look now the team reverted to an orthodox back four rather than experimenting with wing-backs.

Instead, Van Gaal created a midfield diamond with Daley Blind showing his positional sense and understanding of the game as the most withdrawn member of that quartet while Di María and Herrera provided the energy and penetration either side.

Mata is widely suspected to be the most vulnerable player in the wake of Falcao’s arrival but the team was largely set up to ensure he could operate in his best position. He played with distinction and maybe it is time to reassess.

Di María started the rout in the 24th minute with a free-kick from the right that was intended as a cross but played with so much speed and bend it bounced inside the far post once it eluded all the players in a crowded penalty area. To say he meant it would be generous but it was a brilliant delivery that brought his good fortune.

The Argentinian was so eager to impress he eventually had to go off with cramp and his part in the second goal went a long way to showing why United shattered the British transfer record to sign him from Real Madrid. This time, it was a piece of classic, old-school United wing-play.

His run started inside his own half, picking up speed, driving forward and panicking his opponents all the way to the penalty area. United have desperately needed a wide player with this speed and penetration and the reverse pass to Rooney, taking out two defenders in the process, was a thing of beauty. Rooney’s effort was blocked but gave him the opportunity to lay the ball into Herrera’s path and the Spaniard thumped in a low shot.

There were still a few imperfections for Van Gaal to mull over and David de Gea was fortunate that Jonny Evans got back to spare him after a mistake, at 1-0, almost let in Matt Phillips.

Marcos Rojo, playing ahead of the fit-again Luke Shaw at left-back, made a couple of mistakes that better opponents might have capitalised upon and there is still a vulnerable look to United’s defence, even if Tyler Blackett is looking more assured alongside Evans.

This was United’s second successive clean sheet but as Harry Redknapp volunteered afterwards, the time to judge properly is “whether they can cope with the forwards Chelsea have”.

Unfortunately for him, QPR’s threat was nothing like so worrisome. They also played with a strange lack of ambition, as if nobody had told them how poor United have been at their own ground over the last year. Rio Ferdinand had a difficult return to his former club and Clint Hill came off after a first half that exposed his limitations at this level.

Rooney’s goal followed a neat exchange of passes involving Di María, Mata and Herrera, culminating in the striker turning on the ball and lashing a 20-yard drive into the bottom corner.

The game was now an exercise in damage limitation for Redknapp’s team and it was almost a surprise United and their glitzy new signings restricted themselves to only one more goal. – The Guardian


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