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article imageManchester United's direct Angel Di Maria storms past QPR

By Tyrrell Meertins     Sep 14, 2014 in Sports
Manchester United’s emphatic victory over Queens Park Rangers doesn’t indicate where the club will finish in May, but it represented a shift in Louis van Gaal’s approach.
Both sides strayed away from three-man defences with United adopting a 4-4-2 diamond, as Van Gaal handed Daley Blind, Marcos Rojo, and Angel di Maria Old Trafford debuts, whereas Harry Redknapp’s QPR side transitioned into a 4-5-1.
Apart from a defensive lapse between David De Gea and Rojo, which nearly led to a Matthew Phillips goal –– luckily for United, Jonny Evans' last-ditch block cleared the home side's lines –– QPR’s threat in United’s half was scarce. The away side attempted to unleash Junior Hoilett into space behind the advancing Rafael, but the deliveries were often over hit, and on one occasion the Canadian was rightly ruled offside.
United were comfortable, yet dominant for majority of the match, producing their best performance of the Van Gaal era. Fullbacks Rafael and Marcos Rojo constantly bypassed the QPR wingers, while Blind received ample time and space to dictate the tempo of the match –– achieving a 96 per-cent success rate from 112 attempted passes –– from deep positions in midfield. Equally, Blind provided adequate cover ahead of an untested back line, completing vital tackles and interceptions to negate QPR’s infrequent attacks.
Still, with Radamel Falcao on the bench, Wayne Rooney struggling to influence matches, and Robin van Persie excelling in a withdrawn role –– working the channels and linking play with his teammates –– Di Maria was instrumental to United’s best moves for the second consecutive game.
A sumptuous chip into half-space for an advancing Rojo illustrated Di Maria’s creativity, and although Ander Herrera and Van Persie’s miscue squandered a well-worked move, the Argentine pushed United in the lead with a fortuitous free-kick that evaded his intended teammates, including QPR goalkeeper Robert Green.
United’s second goal vividly highlighted Di Maria’s main threat, and an attacking element the Red Devils have lacked in central areas. Di Maria carried the ball with speed from United’s half to QPR’s 18-yard box and slid an incisive pass behind Mauricio Isla to Rooney, which ultimately led to Herrera’s goal.
Di Maria led the match with 12 ball recoveries and 23 passes in the final third, and while QPR couldn’t contain his nimble individual slaloms, the Argentine also posed a threat when he dropped deeper into midfield. Rooney and Van Persie hesitated to hit a well-weighed ball into the box, and in the second half, the Argentine spotted the latter’s clever diagonal run behind the QPR defence but the Dutchman’s tame volley didn’t trouble Green. United’s fourth goal stemmed from a botched Di Maria shot –– nonetheless it was a great ball to an unmarked Juan Mata in the box –– but the pattern in the build up signified Di Maria’s threat in a deeper role.
“Obviously it was a really disappointing result for us,” Redknapp said. “To be honest, I was sitting there after 20 minutes or so thinking we were bang in the game, because they were struggling to break us down despite having lots of possession.
“They had a lot of the ball, but we were getting behind the ball well and restricting them to very little opportunities.”
Although Armand Traore’s individual runs tormented United at the beginning of the second half, the away side struggled to mount cohesive attacks. QPR failed to push forward as a unit when they won possession, and their ball circulation was laboured and lacked invention. QPR continue to concede goals away from home, and the feeble attack at Redknapp’s disposal reiterates the significance of claiming points at Loftus Road.
“I am very happy with the result because of the way we have played. We were very dominant and we scored goals. A clean sheet is also very important,” Van Gaal said.
“We were more direct to the goal, and I like that. Also we have created, surely in the second half, a lot of chances. But then we don’t score and it’s always the thing. But I’m very happy.”
Considering the opposition, it’s difficult to declare whether a lack of personnel or the system contributed to United’s mediocre opening three games, but similar to Van Gaal's successful World Cup campaign, there was a distinct element of direct penetration in his side's play.
Di Maria’s direct running and service could be the template of the new era dawning at Old Trafford.
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