Bob Dylan has probably never heard of Ryan Giggs. In fact,when the folk legend wrote “Forever Young”, the idea of a 39-year-old footballer trotting around the pitch like a teenager was as far away from his mind as anything else, but Dylan’s words are the last resource left to describe a man who keeps defying age with impressive regularity, just 10 months shy of his 40th birthday.
As he has reminded everybody in recent weeks, Sir Alex Ferguson can afford the luxury of picking virtually two teams with similar strengths, something Harry Redknapp can only dream of despite his January spending spree, and it was telling that today’s game was decided by one of United’s most improved players, Rafael, and the evergreen class of Ryan Giggs.
Having scored as many league goals as QPR, Robin Van Persie was partnered up-front by Javier Hernandez, with Wayne Rooney a surprised inclusion on the bench, after his sinus infection. Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic started a league game together for only the fifth time this season, with Rafael and Patrice Evra confirmed on the flanks.
Nani was awarded a rare start following his brilliant performance against Reading on Monday, with Giggs a surprise choice ahead of Anderson and Tom Cleverley in midfield.
After a slow start in which both teams failed to control the game, Hernandez tested Julio Cesar after 16 minutes, as his glancing header forced an excellent save from the Brazilian keeper.
Six minutes later United were ahead. Having won the ball in midfield, Ryan Giggs sprayed a lovely pass out to Robin Van Persie who forced a save from a very tight angle, before aggravating his hip injury as momentum carried him onto the cameraman.
Van Persie’s injury went unnoticed though as, after Julio Cesar’s save, the ball dribbled out the box before Rafael struck a ferocious half-volley that travelled into the back of the net at such a speed that the QPR’s Brazilian custodian had no chance.
Rafael was very much the man of the afternoon in the first half, clearing Samba’s header off the line before darting to forward and opening QPR’s defence wide open with a superb pass for Robin Van Persie. The Dutchman’s half volley was parried away by Julio Cesar and was also to be Van Persie’s last contribution to the cause as he was precautionary replaced by Danny Welbeck.
Nemanja Vidic went close to double United’s lead just before halftime but his header fizzled wide of the post. After the restart the Serbian centre-back and Rio Ferdinand produced another excellent defensive performance to repel QPR’s rather flimsy threat. The Londoners, who haven’t scored a league goal at Loftus Road since Boxing Day, went close to an equaliser halfway through the second half but De Gea produced his first and only save of the afternoon to deny substitute Loic Remy.
Rooney and Valencia replaced Hernandez and Young, as United looked to seal the game, propelled forward by the superb away support. If considering the fans as the twelfth man on the pitch is a cliche, then the traveling Red Army do their best to dismiss the notion, as their repertoire of chants quickly annihilated QPR’s response of “We let City win the league”.
Quite why would they gloat about City’s success is anyone’s guess, but to each their own.
United’s efforts were finally rewarded ten minutes from time as Nani’s pass found Ryan Giggs who calmly controlled the ball, before slotting it past Julio Cesar to secure yet another three points for United.
The fanfare-less celebration, a humble finger pointed to the sky, said it all. It was a very important result, potentially a defining one depending on the outcome of tomorrow’s clash between City and Chelsea, but there is still work to be done to reach number 20.
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