Belfast Telegraph

Manchester United £151m spending spree pays dividend as Angel di Maria plays like angel

Man Utd 4 - QPR 0

By Sam Wallace

There is no mistaking the gentle hum of a satisfied full-house at Old Trafford, a noise that acknowledges victory is assured, the universe is in its proper order and the only quandary for the locals is whether to nip to the car park early and risk missing the last goal in a rout.

Most Manchester United victories at Old Trafford over the years of Sir Alex Ferguson's domination of English football were not the spine-tingling last-minute heroics that feature most prominently in the season-end montages.

Rather those victories were comprehensive demolitions of the opposition that were over often before half-time and were a simple expression of the club's easy supremacy. Yesterday was that kind of day for United.

Led by Angel Di Maria, the stand-out player in a team that scored four within the hour, United, as far as their fans were concerned, felt like United again.

It helped that all they had in their path were a Queen's Park Rangers team who looked like they could not wait for the ordeal to be over, but when one considers the vicissitudes of the last 12 months this was the kind of reassurance that the home support desperately craved. For United, a return to business as usual is not simply winning games but playing the kind of football to which, to paraphrase Bobby Jones, their opposition are not familiar.

It is early days yet in that respect, but in Di Maria they have at least one player who belongs in a different category to most.

It is a long time since the welcome at Old Trafford has been as fervent and unreserved for a new signing as it was for Radamel Falcao, a late substitute, but he is the kind of footballer that makes this club feel good about itself and its status again.

Di Maria scored the first, and Ander Herrera the second, part of a fine performance from the midfielder who looked much more the part.

So too, Daley Blind and Marcos Rojo, who made their debuts in the starting XI and have timed their arrivals nicely. This was the game to make your United debut in.

Next month Chelsea come to Old Trafford, and by then Louis van Gaal will hope that his £151m-worth of investment is well bedded in.

Falcao's touchline warm-up precipitated a standing ovation around most of Old Trafford.

He came on for Juan Mata, another scorer, and might have had a goal when Rob Green could not hold a shot from Blind.

The QPR goalkeeper, who had a miserable afternoon, managed to block the Colombian's follow-up.

No matter for United, it was the kind of day when it all went right, even down to Van Gaal ditching the three-man defence because he did not believe he had the right personnel.

Who would have thought that an injury to Phil Jones would be the deal-breaker when it came to one man's tactical philosophy?

So it was that a much more orthodox United lined up with Rojo at left-back and Blind as the deepest lying midfielder in a diamond with Mata at the tip of it. To the right was Herrera, arguably United's best player of the first half and Di Maria on the opposite side.

The most explosive moments came from the Argentine, and United scarcely moved out of QPR's half.

From United, there was a presentation for Rio Ferdinand seconds before kick-off, delivered by Sir Bobby Charlton, and a very warm-hearted burst of applause for the man who played 12 years at the club.

He took up his position in the centre of QPR's defence and awaited the onslaught.

In their darkest times over the last year, the problem for United has not simply been losing games at Old Trafford; it has been that they have been out-played at home.

This time there was never any fear of that as they pursued the game in the best traditions of the club. The new boys looked hungry; the older ones energised and the goals just a matter of time.

The first was a free-kick from the right from Di Maria that travelled too far unchecked across the Rangers' area, bounced once and nestled in the far corner. United had lift-off but it was not as if there was a sense of anxiety about the place. By then they could not have been more dominant.

For their part QPR only contributed to their own helplessness by giving the ball away at every conceivable opportunity. Their only sight of goal before the break was a mistake by David de Gea outside the area that allowed Matt Phillips a shot which he snatched at.

Northern Ireland's Jonny Evans, back in starting line-up, threw himself in to block the ball. De Gea would later save with his feet from Niko Kranjcar in the second half when they fashioned their first proper attack.

The second goal came from Herrera, a well-placed right-foot shot across Green. Di Maria had made the running down the left and found Rooney, who had teed the shot up for Herrera after his first effort was blocked.

The third for United arrived just before half-time, hit by Rooney with his right foot on the near side of Steven Caulker, who had anticipated a shot whipped around him and had set himself for the block accordingly. Each goal had been struck quickly and imaginatively. United went in for half-time with a spring in the step.

The Kranjcar shot aside, Rangers got little better in the second half and United came after them again. Mata and Rooney could not put the finishing touch to a ball in from Di Maria on 53 minutes, and then just on the hour came the fourth.

Either Di Maria did a good job of disguising a ball from the left into the area or he just failed to get any loft on it. It fell to Mata, who was unmarked at the back post.

There was no goal for Robin van Persie, who, of all the stars in Van Gaal's team, had the least of the action. He hit a shot on the volley straight at Green after Di Maria's chip into the box.

There was a time when a quiet day for Van Persie would have spelled trouble for United but this is a different team now. There is more than a couple of potential saviours and the effect has been instantaneous.

Belfast Telegraph


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