Yes, today’s opponents were hardly top-tier. Yes, this victory is belated and given the dominance that Louis van Gaal’s side exerted over Queens Park Rangers, perhaps the margin of victory should have been greater. The manager himself certainly thought fit to mention it. But to be perfectly honest, the sheer thrill and excitement provoked by this performance and the thrashing handed out to Harry Redknapp’s side distracted the mind from all else.
The transformation from the side that laboured to a scoreless draw at Turf Moor 15 days ago was startling. United appeared far more direct, confident and simply far more incisive with their passing. A switch to a slightly more familiar 4-3-3 formation and the inclusion of summer arrivals Ander Herrera and Daley Blind in central midfield gave the home side a much better platform with which to attack QPR, and whilst it didn’t click instantly, the signs were encouraging early on. It was the club’s record signing that appeared most likely to make something happen, as expected. Angel Di Maria’s delivery, pace and vision had already been displayed umpteen times before he broke the deadlock, firing in a deceptive free-kick that had time to bounce and evade a tightly-clustered penalty area before going beyond Rob Green. The Argentine had a hand in the second, bursting down the left flank on 36 minutes and found Rooney; after his shot was blocked, the club’s captain found time and space to tee-up Herrera on the edge of the area, and the Spaniard arrowed in to the bottom corner. The favour was returned on the stroke of half-time, Herrera neatly linking with Di Maria and touching to Rooney, who had time and space to fire underneath Green even after the ball bobbled under his first touch.
United’s ruthless mood was helped by QPR’s highly welcoming defending. Rio Ferdinand must have enjoyed a belated sending-off from the Old Trafford crowd but this is one afternoon he’ll want to banish from his memory, with his captain Clint Hill overwhelmed from the off. A fourth, even with United’s newest superstar on the bench, was inevitable, Di Maria firing in what later transpired to be a fake shot that Juan Mata was able to fire into the roof of the net just before the hour mark. Radamel Falcao was greeted with a roaring reception when he replaced the Spaniard with a quarter of the game to go, but in truth, the Colombian’s debut had become something of an anti-climax. Still, there was time for Green to thwart him from close range after Daley Blind’s long-range shot, and Robin van Persie almost added some gloss of his own from another sumptuous Di Maria delivery, but the Dutchman completed a disappointing outing by firing straight at QPR’s no.1 .
This was an afternoon full of positives though, make no mistake. United’s central midfield partnership were excellent, Di Maria was inspired and Marcos Rojo’s debut at left-back was a steady, mostly dependable one. Tyler Blackett and Jonny Evans went largely untested all afternoon, but the latter had to be on hand to mop up when David De Gea’s mistake almost allowed Matt Phillips to equalise in the first half. Falcao’s introduction was rightly relegated to a supporting role in the afternoon’s events, simply because of how powerful United had appeared before his entrance. Van Gaal spoke of the need to continue such improvement, but keeping a lid on the positivity sparked by the afternoon’s events proved difficult.
What will have surely pleased him and the Old Trafford crowd most of all was the quality of United’s football. It made for an excellent afternoon’s viewing, and the faithful responded with the sort of joyous atmosphere that has been mostly missing from these stands since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement. Of course, amidst any premature title-talk, Van Gaal knows that this thrashing will be worth naught if United leave Leicester without a result next weekend. What’s perhaps most comforting is that he appears to be in possession of a bunch of players who could do that, and more.