Manchester United continues to put pressure on all of their chief rivals in the Premier League title race as they stretched their advantage over the defending champions of Manchester City to 15 points today following a 2-0 victory over Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road.
The critical thing that will come out of this match is the health of Robin van Persie. Van Persie started the match but was subbed off in the 40th minute due to a possible injury after colliding with a television camera mere minutes earlier. The hope for Old Trafford faithful is that this was a sub with an eye towards the return leg of the Champions League Round of 16 in 10 days time against Real Madrid.
With that in mind as well, we did see Wayne Rooney come on as a late second half substitute to get some playing time as he is coming off of a sinus infection. After Sir Alex Ferguson initially ruled out Rooney earlier this week, it was a pleasant surprise.
A brief lull in the schedule congestion that threatens to wear down United presented Ferguson with the opportunity to play a more unique starting eleven today, and ended up in a match where are four first choice strikers had playing time to keep legs fresh for Real.
The hosts were left with not much to scratch for after an early flurry of possession had QPR sitting with well over 60% of the ball but not much to show for it. From there on out, Michael Carrick began to take over the match, much like he has done so far this campaign for United, and The Red Devils were in control for the remainder.
The match’s opening goal came courtesy of a goal of the week candidate from rightback Rafael. In the 23rd minute Van Persie put an effort on goal from the touchline, the rebound came out to an oncoming Rafael outside of the box and a strike for the ages for the defender put United ahead 1-0.
It was on that play that Van Persie injured himself, as he tumbled into the cutout that houses a TV camera. He did stay in the match and had a quality chance that was just turned aside by QPR keeper Julio Cesar. Moments later, Van Persie was subbed off for Danny Welbeck.
The second half was patiently controlled by The Red Devils and they were rewarded with a calming second goal in the 80th courtesy of the seemingly ageless Ryan Giggs. A beautiful pass from Nani, yes, that Nani that I have maligned for much of this season, beat the offside trap from the hosts and let Giggs score an away goal for the 18th season out of 21 he has played in the Premier League.
At the other end of the pitch, a great match from United’s back four of Rafael, Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic allowed David de Gea to have one of his easier days in the United goal, forced to only make one good save to secure the clean sheet.
With the three points, United are tentatively 15 points clear of second place Manchester City as they carry 68 points from 27 matches so far in the 2012-13 Premier League campaign. City, who host third place Chelsea on Sunday, have 53 points from 26 matches, while Chelsea have 49 points from 26 matches. Tottenham Hotspur occupy the last Champions League transfer spot in 4th with 48 points from 26 matches and visit West Ham United on Monday.
Up next for Manchester United is a Premier League match next Saturday at Old Trafford as they play host to Norwich City. The Canaries gathered up a crucial 3 points today with a late rally for a 2-1 win at home over Everton, and now sit in 12th spot in the table, 8 points clear of the relegation zone.
Norwich are the last team to defeat United in Premier League play back in November, 1-0 at Carrow Road. This was the last time that United suffered defeat in a match that was not a dead rubber in the Champions League, and also the last time they failed to score in a match that was not a dead rubber in the Champions League. United will surely be looking for redemption and to keep their momentum going for their date with Real Madrid just 4 days later.
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