One of the unexpectedly pleasant things about not having European football to watch/listen to this season is that there really isn’t all that much urgency to get some kind of blog up after each match. Of course, I can’t pretend that I don’t want us to play European football ever again, but not seeing your team struggle to beat a team from Bulgaria who are playing in the CL for the first time or concede to Bayern in the last minute or draw against an unexpectedly organized Schalke side or lose to Dortmund is actually rather pleasant. Jeering from the sidelines is not the most dignified of activities, but it is something.
And it’s always nice when your team plays well. Even if it is only against QPR, more of which in a moment.
United on Sunday were a substantially different side to the last time I saw them against Burnley, not just in terms of personnel but also in terms of attitude, vision and sheer desire. It was all rather thrilling – all the more so when you consider that van Gaal handed debuts to Rojo, Blind and (later) Falcao, as well as a home debut to Di Maria. The potential for these big signings to look unfamiliar with one another was significant, but turned out to be unrealized as the two debutants and Di Maria looked comfortable on the ball and showed signs of a strong understanding with their team mates. All of them, it turned out, proved themselves to be intelligent, skilful players. Of course, in calling Di Maria ‘intelligent’ and ‘skilful’, I’m damning the Argentinian with faint praise. At times, his pace was electric and his vision verged on divine. While a few misplaced passes and the occasional poor first touch mean I can’t hail his home debut as perfect, his pace and presence in midfield, his hunger for the ball (one of his most impressive moments was winning and then shepherding the ball out of defence, harassed by two QPR players, the ball seemingly stuck to his boot by a piece of invisible elastic) and his ability to play an inventive ‘killer’ pass at just the right time (he delayed playing the Mata ball until he was sure the Spaniard was onside) suggest we’ve got something very special here.
Even if it was only against QPR.
Then there’s Blind. The unfeasibly handsome Dutchman set up shop just in front of the back four with a range of satisfyingly quick, uncomplicated passes and moments of quick-witted anticipation on display. His passing accuracy of 95.5% is impressive, but doesn’t really tell the full story. Most of those passes were short and straightforward, true, but they tended to release more dynamic and creative players very quickly. Throughout the match there was a growing sense that here was a player whose reading of the game was excellent and whose ability to influence its outcome was potentially huge. It was a very disciplined performance too. He resisted the urge to maraud forward with Herrera and Di Maria, his first shot (a blistering swerving 25 yarder) coming in the 85th minute. There are caveats, though. His mind may be quick but his legs aren’t – or at least not as quick as those of some of the players he’s going to be up against elsewhere in the league. There is, nevertheless, a greater sense of stability and purpose when he’s on the ball. A great debut.
Even if it was only against QPR.
Those goals were good, though, weren’t they? Di Maria’s flukey free kick was the footballing equivalent of an expertly pitched knuckleball, its flight deceiving everyone and leaving Rob Green uncertain as to which way to dive until it was far too late. Di Maria’s incisive foray into the QPR penalty area and his pass to Rooney should have been rewarded with a goal and Rooney’s quick recovery after his initial shot was blocked ensured Di Maria’s hard work wasn’t wasted. Herrera’s strike was deliciously vicious. And the Spaniard returned the favour just before half-term combining nicely with Mata before putting Rooney through on the edge of the penalty area. The QPR defence’s startlingly accurate impression of a bunch of random people who had got together to indulge their newfound passion for treacle-wading certainly helped matters, but it was a nice goal all the same. Mata’s goal in the second half was the result of a cross/pass/shot from Di Maria that I’ve seen described as a ‘shank’ but I’d much rather prefer to describe as a deliberate (and ultimately successful) attempt to penetrate the QPR defence by slicing the ball behind most of the defenders and steering it more or less perfectly to Mata’s feet. I’m willing to concede that it was a fluke, but I strongly suspect it wasn’t. If he does something similar in the next few matches, I guess we’ll know for sure.
Other items of interest include Rojo looking lively down a left hand side that was meant to be Luke Shaw’s patch, Robin van Persie selflessly trying to play in Falcao for a goal even after the Colombian spurned the chance to do something similar for RVP and Tyler Blackett looking increasingly comfortable on the ball as the match progressed.
This doesn’t mean that I’m going to get carried away. The miscommunication between Rojo and DeGea that almost let in Phillips would have been hilarious if it hadn’t been so alarming – and should have been punished by the QPR striker who hit the ball tamely enough for Evans to get back and clear. QPR’s best player by a country mile (Armand Traore) only came onto the pitch when the game was arguably already lost, but he caused problems for the United defence and, for all our attacking verve and guile, the whiff of vulnerability still clings to the back line.
And it was only QPR…
True. Very true. Tomorrow’s match at Leicester will be a sterner test, as will the home game against Everton on 5th October. But this was a start – and a very good one. United played with passion, hunger, invention and pace. It was exhilarating to watch and an early indication of a hopefully more sustained period of recovery. Time will, as always, tell, but I for one am encouraged by last week’s result.
Even if it was only QPR.