United looked a different team, but then, of course, that’s because they were a different team. With Rojo and Blind making their debuts and Herrera returning to join Di Maria in midfield, the Reds were unrecognisable from the team who’d capitulated so easily in that first home game against Swansea, not only in personnel but, crucial, in terms of spirit and endeavour. They took apart a weak QPR team with a performance that combined passing at pace with a tenacity to break up quickly whatever their opponents attempted to throw at them, feeble though that was. It was the kind of performance and result we’d have seen as par for the course two years ago. Now, it was celebrated with a combination of relief and appreciation of a return to something like the slickness of a United performance of old.
A single game against poor opposition doesn’t necessarily mean the corner has been completed turned, but there was so much quality about the summer signings that it was impossible not to derive the conclusion that, even against better teams than this, United have enough about them now to become a far more formidable proposition this season. Di Maria took many of the plaudits: his performance combined hard work and versatility with the kind of creative edge that lifts the whole team. Rojo was solid and disciplined at left-back, though admittedly rarely tested by a QPR side offering little down the flanks, or indeed anywhere else. Herrera’s work rate in midfield, combined with his passing ability, made him look every inch the kind of player United have needed in that position for some time. For me, however, Daley Blind eclipsed even Di Maria as the afternoon’s star performer: his vision and anticipation of danger in a holding midfield role, alongside his impressive organising of team mates he must barely even know, marked him out as arguably the most crucial of the new signings, whatever the price tags say.
Most of the more established players impressed also. Rafael, returning after his injury lay-off, put in the kind of performance you always hoped he’d produce more consistently in a United shirt. Rooney was busy and industrious, Mata an excellent fulcrum for the attacking talent now suddenly swarming all around him, while Tyler Blackett continues to look more and more comfortable in defence, certainly in comparison with Jonny Evans who still looks some way from his best.
Di Maria opened the scoring with a free kick. It was an attempted cross, but the kind of cross that’s so good it evades every defensive head and finds its way into the far corner. From there, there was never any question the Reds would build on this base and win comfortably. Clever work from Di Maria on the left allowed Rooney to set up Herrera to drill his shot past Green from the edge of the box, while excellent passing work from Herrera and Mata set Rooney up to finish off the move and put the Reds 3-0 up before half-time.
Di Maria was the provider once again for the fourth, teeing up Mata again from the left, the Spaniard making no mistake from close range. It could easily have been more and the United crowd urged Falcao to complete a highly enjoyable afternoon by scoring on his debut, the Colombian having made his entry with just over twenty minutes left. It wasn’t to be, but fans left Old Trafford with the kind of buzz of optimism that’s been far too rare of late. We had a few false dawns last season, of course, but this dawn, whatever it turns out to be, left a very convincing impression.