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Carrick’s Form Comes Flocking Back at Shepherds Bush

Losing out on Champions League progression may have been a big blow to United, but as always the Red Devils rise following disappointment. The 2-0 win against QPR saw United play some exhilarating football for the second game running, and saw them score more than one goal away from home for the first time since September. The club’s away record now sees them with 6 wins and 2 draw in 8 games, keeping a clean sheet 5 times. The last time United conceded a Premier League goal away from Old Trafford was at Anfield, when Steven Gerrard managed to find the net from a free kick given against United following a Charlie Adam dive. The defensive performances away from home have been spot on so far, but Sunday’s game should be remembered for the attack. Had United been more clinical it could easily have been 6 or 7 nil, but 2 was more than enough to earn them a win at Loftus Road. Following a great attacking performance against Wolves, United now seem to have found their momentum going forward after a long period with 1-0 wins.

Being knocked out from the Champions League may be a reason for this, with focus being sharpened. But there is one player in particular who makes United flow again, and it is not Wayne Rooney…

As predicted, Wayne Rooney found the net again against QPR. Very few could have expected the goal to come inside the first minute though! Some great build up by Rooney and Valencia ended up with the former heading in the Ecuadorian’s cross, and like always Rooney continues to enhance his reputation for scoring in streaks. Let us hope this one lasts for a while. Unlike most goals Rooney has scored this season, this one was a striker’s goal. Of his 12 Premier League goals this season 4 have been scored from outside the box, and 5 of the remaining 8 goals have been from the “rebound-area” which he has excelled in so far. This was different however, being more of a Wayne Rooney 2009/10-esque goal. There should be no surprise that Valencia was the provider, as he now stands as the provider for 4 of Wazza’s last 8 headers. His movement leading up to the goal was exceptional, coming deep to help freeing Valencia, then getting away from Young and tuck it in from 5 yards out. Wayne has gotten a lot of stick this season for not finding himself inside the area more often, and he showed here what he can do. But again, this was just one of few times during the whole game that he was to find in the opposition box. He played most of the game as he has all season, coming deep and playing close to the midfield. With Welbeck up front he got the space to roam around and pick out passes, and without proper marking by QPR he found it easy. He could have had 3 assists this game! His passes to Jones and Welbeck were perfectly weighted, but poor finishing and a wrongly awarded offside goal ruined for him. He seemed more focused though, and you see what confidence does to him. He was everywhere, playing some brilliant crisp passes that could have ended in many goals for United.

Nani is a player that relishes this Rooney, and the Portuguese had another brilliant game. Again he did not play as an ordinary winger, but found himself everywhere in the last third. He would double on the right together with Valencia, drag centrally and play some quick one-twos, or stay out on the left giving Luke Young a nightmare. Despite Ashley Young being favored on the left side this season, his width has been an issue for United. At the start of the season it paid off, giving United a different option. Opponents seemed to be caught out by United’s ability to play wide on both wings, something we have not seen since the Giggsy-Beckham days. But as the season progressed, it has become predictable, and doubling on our Englishman has resulted in poor end product. His crosses are often found out, and there has been too much dilly-dallying from his side. But with Nani on one side and Valencia on the other, the attacking play has become incredibly unpredictable. Playing more like a left sided attacking midfielder, Nani is everywhere. He would move away from his position leaving Luke Young with nothing to do, only for him to pop up there and give their right back difficulties.

Defensively this does not help Evra though. Our French full back was finally finding his form with Young in the team, helping out defensively every time necessary, but with Nani being everywhere he struggled against Mackie. Again Evra proves that he suffers when he does not get help from wingers tracking back, and it nearly paid off for QPR. They got past him at every attempt in the first half, and there were calls for his substitution. Instead, Fergie opted for a tactical change. For the second half we saw Nani sticking to his left-wing responsibilities, and as always our Portuguese magician did what has asked from him defensively. He tracked back and helped out Evra, and QPR were stopped completely. Valencia and Smalling on the right were impossible to get past, with both being solid defenders. The Ecuadorians work-rate can never be questioned, and together with Smalling QPR did not manage to get in a single cross from their left side.

United found themselves 2-0 up with Michael Carrick doing his best Lionel Messi impressive, breaking from his own half and passing it into the net. Despite not being the hardest of shots, it is worth taking a look at how Michael fools the goalkeeper with his eyes. He looks at Welbeck, not giving the goalkeeper a glance, before striking it towards the near post. The goalie was already on his way to the far post, but Carrick used all his experience as a passer looking one way and then strike it somewhere else. It is not often we see Carrick go on a run, or be close to the opposition box at all. He saw a header ending up just over the bar against Wolves, but this time he made sure to make his only forward run count. Paired with the energetic Jones, Carrick does not have to do much running. He can jog about and use his brain to play football, leaving young Phil to make the runs and chase opponents. The young centre-back could have had himself a hat-trick! He had already shown his ability to break from midfield and arrive in the box against Villa, and it would be no surprise if he makes a career playing in midfield for United. Despite his passing being erratic, it will improve with experience, and it is really hard to see any end to his potential. His first chance was brilliantly saved by the goalkeeper, with his second coming off the post. Together they have become a perfect partnership for United with Jonesy taking advantage of Carrick’s experience and intelligence, and Michael excelling next to the energy and no-nonsense approach of young Phil.

However, there is one man who deserves plenty of credit for the way United play lately. And that man is Danny Welbeck. His movement and energy seems to give United an edge going forward, and paring his speed and intelligence he has become a real threat to opponents. Despite not scoring since October he plays with supreme confidence, and his skillset seems to bring out the best from Rooney. He would have had a goal to his name had it not been for a blind linesman, but his finish deserves praise nonetheless. He has the ability to stretch defenders Danny, and his unselfish movement paid off for Wayne’s goal. Moving to the first post he took two defenders with him, creating plenty of space for Rooney to expose and eventually score from. United would often find themselves playing without a single striker, with both Rooney and Welbeck dropping deep to give United more options in attack. Dropping deep also forced QPR’s defence higher, which United seemed to take full advantage of. Welbeck was played through by Nani, Jones found himself in plenty of space for his first chance, Nani got behind their defence once or twice, and for Carrick’s goal it was Welbeck’s off the ball movement that gave Michael enough space to hit his shot into the goal. With Nani, Valencia, Rooney, Welbeck, and even Jones bombing forward United have plenty of speed to attack on, which catches oppositions out. It is very much a Barcelona-esque tactic, which finds them score so many goals getting in behind defenders. Having a quick striker that can also play the ball well gives us this edge, and despite Chicharito being a guarantee for goals our attacking play does not look the same. We rely much more on wide play with him in the team, but whenever Welbeck plays we see ourselves playing through opponents as well. Versatile and unpredictable, more of the same please!