United responded in the perfect manner to the 1-0 home defeat to Southampton 6 days earlier, in what was a much improved display from the away side at Loftus Road, which not only heaped further misery on struggling Queens Park Rangers and their under pressure boss Harry Redknapp, but also boosted their own hopes of a much-needed, and many might argue essential, return to Champions League football next season.
It would appear that Louis Van Gaal has taken on board the concerns of many of the United faithful, ditching his beloved 3-5-2 and instead opting, no doubt to the relief of a large proportion of the United fans, for a 3-1-4-2 formation, with Michael Carrick playing as a holding midfielder and captain Wayne Rooney once again operating in a deeper, midfield role. The much talked about on-loan forward Radamel Falcao, who was excluded from the squad entirely by Van Gaal in the previous week, partnered British-record signing Angel Di Maria up front for the Reds.
It was Juan Mata who picked out Falcao for United’s first major opportunity of the game, prompting a fine double-save from the impressive Rob Green. David de Gea denied Charlie Austin, the Premier League’s third highest scorer this campaign with 13 goals, after he was played through by Leroy Fer, for the home side’s first big and probably best chance of the half. Austin was subsequently denied again by the United stopper from a long-range, half-volleyed effort, with the two sides going in goalless at half-time, thanks to a string of impressive saves by the respective goalkeepers.
Falcao failed to find the net once again early into the second period after his header from Di Maria’s cross was saved by Green. Marouane Fellaini replaced Juan Mata at the interval for the visitors, and the switch worked, with the big Belgian now fit and firing again and continuing his impressive second season for the Red Devils with a brilliant volleyed goal on 58 minutes, after Antonio Valencia found him in the penalty area, capping off an excellent United move. It would seem that the former Everton man has finally managed to shake off his £27.5 million price tag after making the switch from Merseyside on Deadline Day in September 2013, and in doing so has become an integral part of Van Gaal’s side in this campaign.
A mix-up between Michael Carrick and Marcos Rojo allowed Eduardo Vargas to break away for QPR, but fortunately the home side were unable to make the most of the opportunity as the Chilean’s attempted pass to team-mate Bobby Zamora was intercepted by Rojo.
Radamel Falcao then appeared to squander what looked like an absolute sitter of a chance from close-range following a cross from James Wilson, who came on for Jonny Evans after 57 minutes – in fairness, however, the replay showed that Steven Caulker’s slight touch appeared to take the ball away from the Columbian hit man.
QPR were once again denied late on by the brilliance of De Gea, shortly before the Reds sealed all three points after breaking away on the counter, with 19-year-old academy graduate James Wilson, making his first league appearance since the Boxing Day victory over Newcastle, making it 2-0 in the fourth minute of stoppage time, after being played through by Angel Di Maria.
The performance was undoubtedly a huge improvement from the Southampton game, with the manager impressed with his side’s second-half display. Van Gaal stated, in regards to the change in formation: “I know in advance that when we play with four in midfield in a diamond that we create more chances, but then the balance of the team is also weak. And you’ve seen it (today) because we created chances but so had QPR. We have to decide every week how we have to play. And that’s the question”.
The Dutchman also went on to praise the form of keeper David de Gea: “I think he (De Gea) has been playing well all season – we have (kept) a lot of clean sheets and that is mainly down to him”.
Despite the positive result for United in what was on paper a tough fixture, the one major concern for Louis Van Gaal must be the form, or lack thereof, of Radamel Falcao. The question remains: Will Manchester United really be prepared to splash out £43.2 million for the Columbian to make his move a permanent one? LVG has already warned Falcao that he must prove he is worth a long-term contract at Old Trafford by improving his goal scoring record between now and April – when the club are expected to make a decision on the striker. Falcao’s performance in West London is unlikely to have done him many favours or silence his many critics, after failing to convert a series of decent opportunities.