Diamond design and Di Maria deliver on Red Devils home debut
There can hardly have been a worse time for Harry Redknapp to take his QPR team to Old Trafford than this first outing since the summer transfer window slammed shut.
Angel Di Maria, on his home debut, orchestrated Manchester United’s first win under Louis van Gaal, netting the opener before having a hand two of the other three goals the hosts converted without reply. The Hoops were hammered, and fearsome Colombia hitman Radamel Falcao got just a quarter of the game against them.
His omission from the Red Devils XI was headline team news, alongside a change of tack from Van Gaal. Three at the back was gone. United’s boss insisted this was out of necessity rather than design, but a four-man defence should be the way forward now.
Patrick Kluivert, a pundit for British television coverage of this game, suggested Van Gaal, the man he assisted as Netherlands national boss at the recent World Cup in Brazil, may revert to using wing backs. The common denominator is failure to achieve results with that setup this season, however.
Diamond formations are in real danger of having that ‘en vogue’ tag the media slap on tactical systems, following its employment by first Liverpool, then England and now in Manchester. Daley Blind, a less lauded £14m summer signing, got his Red Devils career off to an assured state as a brilliant base of midfield, putting out fires and allowing others to excel.
It took fellow new face Ander Herrera time to trust the versatile Dutchman but, as confidence grew and frustration ebbed for the Basque, a maiden United goal followed Di Maria’s free kick.
That second strike for the home side officially goes down as a Wayne Rooney assist, but British football’s record signing Di Maria did so much in the build-up with a pacy left wing burst to make it possible.
United captain Rooney also added his name to the scoresheet before half time, this time with Herrera turning provider. Di Maria crossed for Juan Mata, whose future is the subject of so much speculation, to round off a 4-0 mauling of QPR after the break.
Goal difference is already looking grim for the Hoops, though the destiny of Redknapp’s charges will not be decided in games like this one. At best, the visitors gave the Red Devils occasional scares through Matty Phillips and sub Eduardo Vargas.
No disrespect to QPR intended, but the opposition was always going to play second fiddle to this new-look United team in media attention. Van Gaal was hardly effusive with praise, though, stressing that his expensively assembled side could do better.
That much is true. Sterner tests lie ahead for the Red Devils throughout an autumn where the Premier League is a rare sole focus for them. A handsome home win needs to be put in its proper context, namely it came against Championship play-off winners that failed to live up to their tag of promotion favourites last term.
A United back four which contained Marcos Rojo, finally cleared to play, still looked shaky and this was typified by David de Gea’s first half rush of blood, which stronger sides shall punished. Van Gaal’s defence, be it three of four, will undoubtedly be more solid with Phil Jones in it, while fellow England international Luke Shaw still awaits a debut at left back.
Falcao got a bow off the bench, however, but only really received one sniff in his 20-odd minutes on the pitch. Robert Green in the opposition goal wasn’t feeling charitable to the £6m loan signing.
No ill effects of that serious knee injury that kept Falcao out of the World Cup were in evidence during this cameo. He will likely be unleashed from the start against Leicester City next time out. As far as the Stretford End are concerned, diamonds are forever.