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A bit about who Man Utd, Van Gaal and Falcao are playing this weekend – preview
Friday, 12th Sep 2014 23:23 by Clive Whittingham
Given the media coverage of Manchester United, it’s something of a surprise to find that they’re going to have to play some more matches before being handed the league title. It’s with some trepidation that we find the first of those is against QPR.
Louis Van Gaal and Radamel Falcao v Queens Park RangersPremier League >>> Sunday September 12, 2014 >>> Kick Off 16.00 >>> Old Trafford, Salford >>> Live On Sky Sports 1
Friday, glorious Friday. The late afternoon sun streaming through the office windows heralding the successful completion of another five days without strangling the living shit out of somebody. Congratulations everybody.
The end of the week is always particularly sweet when it comes at the end of a international break, because it heralds a return of the proper football we’re all actually interested in, and an end to the stuff that we really only give a toss about every other summer.
International breaks always were fairly pointless, irritating things. They’d start with an initial squad announcement, which in all likelihood would be the first time you’d realised there was a round of international games coming up at all. There would then be a period of time during which half of the players named in that squad would find spurious reasons to withdraw from it, only to miraculously appear fit and healthy for the following weekend’s league games. Once settled on who was actually going to attend, there’d then be a drab friendly game – usually drawn, always infested with substitutions – which would teach nobody anything about anything, and a qualifying game that nine times out of ten would be against no-mark, easily beaten opposition and then very occasionally might actually matter. Usually England would win that one that made a difference, although sometimes they had Steve McClaren as manager.
UEFA have, in their wisdom, pulled off the formidable achievement of making these irritants even more pointless than they ever were before this season by deciding that the persistent absence of Latvia, Leichenstein, Macedonia, Wales, Norway and others from tournaments was devaluing the competitions and needed to be addressed. Now, basically, everybody is going to qualify for the European Championships in France in two years. The governing body has also looked at the time and expense taken to stage a series of 9-0 wins against San Marino, the Faroe Islands and Andorra and decided that what the international scene needs is a good deal more of that sort of thing – who doesn’t like goals? – and has therefore padded groups out by admitting Gibraltor and other such world powers. They started with a 7-0 defeat against Poland, played in an entirely empty stadium, in Portugal. Smooth.
England’s dynamic, adventurous, impressive, faith-restoring victory against a very decent Switzerland side in Basel during the week is therefore slightly undermined by the fact that it means they have now basically qualified after one match. You can get in from third, England could pick the Scunthorpe United starting eleven for the remainder of the group and still make it through.
Still, at least the international breaks do still revolve around the playing of some actual football matches, unlike the Premier League we return to this weekend where the games themselves are becoming increasingly irrelevant. At the moment, the 90 minutes of domestic action at the end of the week is currently fourth in line behind games in the Champions League, the signing of players, and a good old fashioned war of words. Those aren’t in any particularly order – obviously if Mourinho is involved then a war of words becomes the most important thing in the sport – but they are, nevertheless, the real quiz.
The headlines on Sky Sports News HQ (they’ve rebadged it you fool) at 22.00 on Wednesday were, in this order: what Gary Neville thinks about Manchester United’s summer transfer business; what Ryan Giggs thinks about Manchester United’s summer transfer business; what Nicky Butt thinks about Manchester United’s summer transfer business; and then, after a quick switch across the studio, what people you’ve never heard of and care even less about than Nicky Butt think about Manchester United’s summer transfer business.
This annoyed me for a few reasons. Mainly because I’d told myself to stop watching that wretched channel after tuning in to see four MK Dons goals go in against Man Utd only to have to sit through 15 minutes of “news” about Angel Di Maria signing for them – which everybody knew was happening anyway and was covered by the anchor slowly reading out the official Man Utd press release which contained “Di Maria’s thoughts” on how “delighted” and “excited” he was to be making the move. Clearly he’d never uttered a word of it himself, clearly it had been cooked up by some chinless PR in a washable suit from Marks and Spencer, but there we sat anyway, having it read to us, waiting for the actual goals from an actual football match. That followed an incident earlier in the summer when I’d received a text on the tube saying that Tony Pulis, just two months ater being named the Premier League’s manager of the year, had sensationally walked out on Crystal Palace two days before the start of the new season, and rushed home to get the TV on and find out all about it. The headline that night was that Louis Van Gaal had confirmed Wayne Rooney as his Manchester United captain.
It’s just as well that the matches don’t matter a great deal anymore, because United haven’t managed to win one yet. Held to a draw by European super-powers Sunderland and Burnley, and beaten narrowly by fellow title contenders Swansea and MK Dons. Never fear though, because what everybody has failed to tell you amidst the tidal wave of sycophantic cum dumping, is that United have a game this Sunday, against another football team, and that team is our own Queens Park Rangers.
On a bad run? Need a first win? If you have a problem, and if you can find them, maybe you too can pick QPR next in the fixture list. We all know the form here – John Jensen, signed as a goalscoring midfielder by Arsenal, played 140 games for the Gunners and scored once. Against QPR. Another occasion when the coverage didn’t quite match the reality – QPR won the game 3-1, although the score and the scorers barely warranted a mention. Lloyd Doyley, 447 appearances and counting at Watford, two goals… Swindon Town, relegated from the 1993/94 Premier League with just five wins and 30 points, beat QPR twice. The first of those victories came against QPR at the sixteenth attempt despite being reduced to ten men after a quarter of an hour. Had Rangers won, they’d have gone second in the Premier League in mid-November.
QPR could justifiably be registered as a charity, and will almost certainly do exactly as they’re supposed to do at Old Trafford this Sunday, rolling over and dying quietly while the new Mark Falco fills his boots and is immediately lauded as the greatest thing to happen to humanity since oxygen was discovered.
But QPR have had a decent summer themselves. The deadline day capture of Sandro from Tottenham – a 25 year old Brazilian international midfielder – capped a fine summer in difficult circumstances. QPR had high earners to get rid of last season, while at the same time building a team capable of returning them to the top flight. Harry Redknapp received justifiable criticism for his tactics, and constant pursuit of further signings – could Max Ehmer and Michael Harriman not have done an equal, or probably better, job than Oguchi Onyewu and Aaron Hughes, for example? Was Tom Hitchcock not a better bet than Mobido Maiga? But they got back at the first attempt, unlike Wigan and Reading. Doing so via the play-offs left them with less time than other clubs to build a team for the top flight. Doing so with eight loans in the squad meant they had to recruit far more players than they should. Doing to with big earners signed under a previous failed plicy like Julio Cesar, Esteban Granero and Loic Remy, meant there would need to be more departures still. And yet, Redknapp, and Rangers, have done a fine job this summer.
Steven Caulker, Jordon Mutch, Leroy Fer, Sandro, Maurcio Isla and Eduardo Vargas are good players, still early in their careers, and all have been brought in for a reasonable price. Well, not a reasonable price at all for a club of QPR’s size and average gate, but a reasonable price for a club bringing in the television money that Premier League clubs do these days. It seems ludicrous that going into a game against a team that finished seventh last year, has no Champions League football, is paying tens of millions of pounds on debt interest used by a rich American to purchase the club to milk it of its profits, and has just spent £150m on players, that it’s QPR, who seem to have learnt lessons from the many mistakes they made last time at this level, who are being hounded in the press about financial fair play. QPR’s wage bill has become like London buses – something for lazy tabloid hacks to compare their news stories to. Wembley Stadium is the size of 15,000 London buses. The cost of military invasion in Syria is ten times the QPR wage budget.
Rangers are a club that made mistakes last time they were in the Premier League. It would appear, and God alone knows we all desperately hope, they’ve learnt from it. The signings in the summer suggest they have, to such an extent that we’ll even allow Redknapp his usual gratuitous signing of Niko Kranjcar right on the deadline. More importantly, QPR stepped away from deals with Jermain Defoe and Fabio Borini when the demands turned out to be ridiculous – two years ago they’d both have been signed no questions asked. One encouraging thing about the Sandro signing, was the reaction of the Tottenham fans. While his knee injury, sustained against QPR in 2013, is a concern, the vast majority of Spurs fans online were sad, or even annoyed, to see him go.
Rangers should treat this as a free hit. Their season will hinge on fixtures like Stoke and Aston Villa at home, which are the next two fixtures at Loftus Road either side of trips to Southampton and West Ham. The points total from those four will tell us a lot more about what to expect this season.
Still, there’s always that very slight chance. What did Kevin Keegan say?
SundayTeam News: Harry Redknapp says QPR are nursing knocks going into this game which will be assessed for a final time on Saturday. Joey Barton’s hamstring is the chief concern, although with Leroy Fer, Jordon Mutch and now Sandro to pick as the midfield three it’s questionable whether Barton merits a place in the starting line up anyway. Chileans Mauricio Isla and Eduardo Vargas had a late kick off in Miami on Wednesday night and only returned to London today so it remains to be seen what part they play.
United, you may have hard, are preparing to give home debuts to Radamel Falcao, Daley Blind, Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo and Angel Di Maria but Phil Jones has been ruled out for a month with an injury and neither Chris Smalling nor Michael Carrick are likely to be fit to play either. The loss of Marouane Fellaini and Ashley Young to injury appears to be more of a blow to QPR than United, but back-up youngsters Sam Johnstone, James Wilson, Reece James and Jesse Lingard are all ruled out as well.
Elsewhere: Amazingly, scandalously, the Premier League is making all the other teams play some actual football this weekend as well, and if you have £65 in your back pocket why not endulge yourself in Arsenal’s Saturday lunchtime draw with Manchester City?
There’s a lot of stuff at 15.00 that – by the sheer definition of claiming you have the “games that matter” - Sky would tell you nobody cares about and have no bearing on the final outcome. Crystal Palace v Burnley, for example, is a fixture fit for League One while Southampton v Newcastle is a fixture between two teams much better at transfer market than the games themselves. Registered sex offenders will be asked to report to Stoke v Leicester as punishment and while Chelsea beat Swansea 4-0. Sunderland v Spurs could, by contrast, be reasonably interesting.
In the evening Liverpool host Aston Villa, which given the Villains’ propensity to win at Anfield shouldn’t be written off quite as readily as Hull v West Ham on Monday night, which will be like working as a contract cleaner in a branch of HSBC, in Newcastle-under-Lyme, during a company-wide ban on headphones, music, conscious thought, and pretty much anything other than hoovering and bin emptying.
Referee: The man in the middle is always more of an issue than he really should be in games against Man Utd, particularly for QPR who have been on the end of some absolute stinkers in fixtures against United over the years, and this weekend we’re treated to the abrasive, cocksure style of Phil Dowd. Not short of QPR appointments in recent years, Dowd refereed Rangers for their 1-0 defeat on this ground in the League Cup in 2008 when QPR’s brave resistance was broken eight minutes from time by – wouldn’t you just know it – the award of a penalty kick. Not an official who has been particularly kind to the Super Hoops over the years, here’s his full case history.
FormMan Utd: Games shmames. Matches shmatches. What does this matter anyway? Man Utd, and Behold Van Gaal, have lost against Swansea (2-1) and MK Dons (4-0) while drawing with Sunderland (1-1) and Burnley (0-0) so far but look at all the players they’ve signed. Last season they were beaten on this ground in the league by West Brom (2-1), Everton (1-0), Newcastle (1-0), Spurs (2-1), Liverpool (3-0), Man City (3-0) and Sunderland (1-0). They were also defeated on their own patch in the FA Cup by Swansea (2-1). Failure to win here will be United’s worst start to a season since 1986. Radamel Falcao has scored 104 goals in 139 league games in Spain and France during the last five years
QPR: Rangers have lost ten of the previous 12 meetings against Man Utd, have lost on their last seven trips to this ground, and haven’t kept a clean sheet against United since a 0-0 draw here in September 1992. The memorable 4-1 success here on New Year’s Day in 1992 remains their only win on this ground to day. So far this season Rangers have lost twice away from home in two outings without scoring – 1-0 at League Two Burton in the League Cup and 4-0 at Tottenham in the league. But at Loftus Road, QPR have looked good – unlucky to lose against Hull, deserved winners against Sunderland. Their away record is not good though – just two away successes from 19 attempts in their last Premier League season (albeit one at Chelsea) and only three road wins the year before, all under Neil Warnock. They lost here 2-0 and 3-1 in their two previous Premier League campaigns.
Betting: Professional odds compiler Owen Goulding tells us…
“QPR travel to Old Trafford as the Sky cameras descend on Manchester to see how many goals big spending United can put past the little old team from West London. It's going to be nauseating to watch the pundits drooling over new signings Falcao, Di Maria and Daley Blind before a ball is even kicked so I'd recommend tuning it at 16.00 and not a second before.
“As for pricing, the bookies have Man Utd at 2/7 with QPR a current best priced 14/1. To be honest I make that price a little big considering United's less-than-average defence but I've seen this kind of game time and time again where QPR turn up and literally roll over and have their tummy tickled simply because Old Trafford used to be a fortress. So while I am staying away from match prices for a betting interest, I cannot ignore the fact that I wouldn't want a single one of Jonny Evans, Phil Jones or Tyler Blackett in the QPR side. The fact the home team’s defence has conceded seven goals already this season makes the current price on Charlie Austin to net at any time is well worth an interest. Now he has the monkey off his back regarding his first Premier League goal, the 9/2 is worth a play.”
Recommended bet: Charlie Austin to score at anytime 9/2 @ Paddy Power.
Elsewhere my bet of the week comes in League Two where Accrington take on Wimbledon. Based in recent form, this game has goals written all over it as both teams have goals in them, with players such as Matt Tubbs on display, but neither team knows how to defend. More than 3.5 goals at 11/4 with BetVictor is my bet of the weekend.
Some big price goal scorers for you include…
Jack Payne Southend v Pompey 7/1 anytime- William Hill
Pelly Ruddock Luton v Cheltenham 13/2 anytime Bet365
Prediction: Our reigning Prediction League champion WestonSuperR tells us…
“I can feel a bit optimism creeping in after our win v Sunderland but although this was a decent performance let’s not forget our one away game so far this season and temper any over-enthusiasm by remembering just how bad we were at Tottenham. Play anything like that and this time it will be the six or seven it should have been at White Hart Lane.
“Our record at Old Trafford is pretty dreadful, apart from ‘that’ game of course (thank you Dennis for what was possibly the greatest game of football I’ve ever witnessed) and we have caught Man Utd at a bad time, with plenty of players now playing for their place and others wanting to make a good impression on their home debuts. The thought of a combination of Van Persie, Falcao and Di Maria bearing down on Clint Hill or, especially, Richard Dunne is terrifying.
“Let’s hope we can withstand what is sure to be a fast start from United, hold out for a while and begin to test the crowd’s resolve. If we don’t stand off United, get a good slice of luck and Charlie Austin has a great day then you never know but it’s a comfortable win for United for me.”
John’s Prediction: Man Utd 2-0 QPR. No scorer.
LFW’s Prediction: Man Utd 4-0 QPR. No scorer.
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