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Tactics & Analysis

The Tactics Board – QPR unlucky while United are wasteful

Manchester United came into the game against Queens Park Rangers having taken 31 points from the previous 33 available, while Queens Park Rangers came into this game after beating Arsenal a week earlier 2-1. QPR has been involved in a relegation fight for most of the season, and they made some substantial investments in the January transfer window but they still are struggling to get results. United, on the other hand, came into this game 5 points clear a top the table with Manchester City seeming to fade in the final run-in of the season after they had sat atop the table for most of the season.

Manchester United vs. Queens Park Rangers
Old Trafford – April 8th, 2012


Manchester United-
Sir Alex Ferguson came into this game in a more traditional 4-4-2 after playing a 4-3-3 the previous week against Blackburn. With the formation change, the manager only made two changes with Danny Welbeck starting up front instead of Javier Hernandez, and Ashley Young got the start and Phil Jones dropped to the bench.

Sir Alex Ferguson kept the same back line that he’s played for over a month now, with David De Gea starting in goal. At left-back, Patrice Evra started his 31st league game while at right-back Rafael got his 6th start in a row. The first-choice center back pairing of Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans got the start, as they’ve both had a great season with Jonny Evans being mentioned by many as United’s player of the season.

In the midfield, the on-form Ecuadorian winger Antonio Valencia got the start on the right side while Ashley Young got back into the starting line-up on the left wing. In the middle of the pitch, Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes started their 3rd game in a row. At the front of the attack, Wayne Rooney got the start back at striker after starting the game against Blackburn on the left-wing. The other striker was Danny Welbeck, as Javier Hernandez started the game on the bench.

Starting Formation

Queens Park Rangers-
Mark Hughes team came out in a 4-2-3-1 that has been his favorite formation this year for the Rangers. The Rangers #1 Patrick Kenny got the start in goal, having missed the reverse fixture in December. The backline stayed the same as the line that had beat Arsenal a week earlier, with the center back pairing of Anton Ferdinand and Clint Hill. The starting fullbacks for the Rangers were both players who had been acquired in the January transfer window, with former AC Milan player Taye Taiwo starting at left-back and former Manchester City player Nedum Onuoha getting the start at right-back.

Getting the start as the holding midfielders was Shawn Derry and Samba Diakite. On the right side of the midfield, Jamie Mackie got the start while Akos Buzsaky got the start as the attacking midfielder with Joey Barton being left out of the line-up by Mark Hughes as the team captain was one yellow card away from picking up a two game ban. Starting out wide on the left side was Adel Taarabt, who had a man of the match performance a week earlier against Arsenal, in which he managed to net the first goal of the game for Rangers. QPR was hoping that a performance like that was just what he needed to spur the kind of play that had him scoring 19 goals and 15 assists a year ago to win promotion for the Rangers. With Bobby Zamora dealing with a head cold, Jay Bothroyd got the start at the front of the line for the first time since January.


  • United control possession
  • Weak penalty and red card for Shawn Derry on an offside Ashley Young
  • QPR pressure United’s midfield, but leaves gap for Rooney
  • United struggle to finish on goal scoring chances
  • Poor clearance by Taarabt opens chance for Scholes to give United 2-0 lead


United dominate possession from kick-off

Manchester United came out of the gate and was easily able to control possession, with Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes sitting in the midfield and controlling the ball. Both central midfielders played fairly deep, with Paul Scholes making his typical diagonal passes to move the ball around the field. Up front, Danny Welbeck got the start over Javier Hernandez, who struggled in the previous game against Blackburn. With QPR’s center-back pairing of Anton Ferdinand and Clint Hill, it was decided that Welbeck’s work rate and strength would suit United’s attack better than Chicharito’s movement. United obviously anticipated QPR to play a deep lying defense, which would make it hard for Chicharito to make his runs and find space behind the defense.

United was able to control possession and this pinned QPR deep in their own zone, with Shawn Derry and Samba Diakite screening in front of their center-backs to prevent Rooney from having any space to operate. Akos Buzsaky was responsible for applying pressure on Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick, ensuring that they were pressed to move the ball and not give them the time and space that they were allowed by Fulham and Blackburn previously.

Mistaken Penalty and Red Card costly for Rangers

While Manchester United controlled the game from the very start, the game took a serious turn for the worse for QPR in the 14th minute. With United controlling the ball, Clint Hill stepped forward to challenge Wayne Rooney, and he put a pass between the center back’s legs into Ashley Young at the top of the box. Ashley Young was almost a yard offside, with the linesman in a great position with an unobstructed view, but he failed to raise his flag and the Ranger’s captain, Shawn Derry, put a hand on Young who fell to the ground in the box. Immediately, the referee Lee Mason pointed to the spot for a penalty kick and handed Shawn Derry a red card. This was a poor decision, as Ashley Young was clearly offside and arguably took a dive from Derry’s fairly minimal contact. These mistakes left QPR with uphill climb as they had to play the next 75 minutes with only 10 men, an a 1-0 deficit as Wayne Rooney stepped up and converted the penalty.

QPR down to 10-men

Once Shawn Derry was sent off, QPR changed from their 4-2-3-1 to a 4-4-1 with 2 lines of 4 to sit in defense in the hopes that they could limit the damage that United would inflict as they fight against relegation. This change left Jay Bothroyd alone up front, with no open to link the play forward to him. He was left to spend the rest of the game chasing down United’s center-backs on defense to try and apply pressure on them, while trying to gather the occasional long ball from deep in QPR territory and hold it up to wait for help from Mackie and Taarabt.

QPR’s defense pressure’s United’s midfield

As opposed to the strategy that Blackburn and Fulham had adopted the previous two weeks, Queen Park Rangers decided not to just sit deep in defense and pack the box. Both Fulham and Blackburn were willing to concede possession to United, and just pack the box to make it difficult for United to get a decent look at the goal. Both teams were willing to give United’s midfield plenty of time and space on the ball, as they just sat in the box and force United to try and break them down.

Queens Park Rangers, on the other hand, decided to challenge United’s midfielders when they had the ball. Both Akos Buzsaky and Samba Diakite would step out to challenge Scholes and Carrick with the ball, trying to limit their time and space. Unfortunately, by stepping forward to challenge United’s midfielders, this opened gaps in front of the center-backs for Danny Welbeck and Wayne Rooney to operate in. Repeatedly during the game, Rooney and Welbeck were able to get the ball in this area and had several decent looking chances at the goal, but they struggled to convert. Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes also repeatedly made runs into this area of the pitch, as United tried to put pressure on this zone to open up QPR’s defense.

With QPR reduced to 10 men, United pressed forward on the attack. Both fullbacks pressed up the wings to join the attack. In addition, in the first half Michael Carrick pressed forward from the midfield while Scholes stayed back to keep controlling possession and moving the ball from wing to wing. They were able to ratchet up the pressure on QPR, pressing them deeper into their own half.

United unable to convert chances

For the first 45 minutes, Manchester United struggled with 4 shots on goal. At times, the Red Devils would get the ball into dangerous positions but they hesitated to shoot the ball. They always seemed to be looking for the next pass, trying to find the perfect pass to split open the Ranger’s defense instead of taking shots from the edge of the box. It often happened that United could move the ball to the edge of the penalty area, but they would try one pass too many and give up possession. In the second half, they came out and were more willing to shoot the ball. They put more chances on goal, and it eventually paid off.

For the possession that United had, they struggled to convert their chances into goals. They struggled with their finishing all game, as they were able to take 28 shots and put 10 on target. They hit the post twice during the game, but they were only able to get 2 goals against a relegation zone side that played for 75 minutes with only 10 men. Even worse, only one of the goals came from open play. In a game like this, Manchester United should have been able to put more goals on the board.

There were a couple of exceptional chances during the game for Danny Welbeck in the penalty area, but he was able to put the ball in. Early in the second half, Michael Carrick played a ball into the box for Ashley Young, who back-heeled it straight into the path of Danny Welbeck. With no defender on him, he took a shot from the left side of the box from under 10 yards that flew up and over the crossbar. This lack of finishing has troubled Welbeck at times throughout the season, and the wasted opportunities by United today may have caused this game to have a different outcome if QPR had not been reduced to 10 men.

Queens Park Rangers have few chances, United plays great defense

Manchester United played strong on defense, shutting down the Ranger’s midfield when they touched the ball. Wayne Rooney showed again how key he is to United not just for his offensive contributions, but for how hard he works on defense to track back and help defend the central midfield. When QPR was able to get a turnover, the United players were quick to put pressure on the ball carrier in an attempt to quickly win the ball back. Antonio Valencia and Rafael were both very successful at winning the ball back in QPR’s half of the field. This kept the pressure on the Rangers, and didn’t allow them chances to counter-attack or give their defense any breathing room.

QPR struggled on offense for the entire game, especially after they were reduced to 10 men. Jay Bothroyd struggled alone up front to make any real impact. In the center of the pitch, Sir Alex Ferguson had Paul Scholes mark Akos Buzsaky as he was QPR’s more advanced central midfielder, while Michael Carrick marked Samba Diakite. Both United midfielders were able to mark the Ranger’s midfielders fairly tightly and this shut down any offensive chances coming from QPR’s central midfield.

With no assistance coming from the center of the pitch, QPR was forced out wide and it was up to Adel Taarabt and Jamie Mackie out wide. Mackie was quiet for most of the game; while Taarabt was able to get the only real chances QPR had the entire game. He played on the left wing, but he played very narrow with the ball. With Rafael playing so far forward on the attack, Taarabt had chances to get behind him on the attack but all too often he would bring the ball inside where Carrick and Scholes could challenge him. QPR’s best offensive chance of the game came in the 32nd minute, when Taarabt was able to pressure Rafael and win the ball from the Brazilian inside United’s penalty area, leaving Rafael on the ground. Before Taarabt could take his shot on goal against De Gea, Jonny Evans made a fantastic sliding block to keep the Moroccan from an easy chance on goal.

The strength of the Red Devils attack

Ashley Young got the start in the game, after coming off the bench last week against Blackburn to put in the second goal to ensure United picked up all 3 points away. The England winger played narrow on the left side, often tucking inside and linking with Rooney on the edge of the penalty area, especially after QPR were reduced to 10-men, but this limited the width of United’s attack on the left side of the pitch.

Final Third Passing by half

Most of United’s attack came from the right side, as the ball was frequently passed out wide to Valencia or Rafael to start the attack. With the form that Valencia and Rafael have had of late, United seemed to determine that the right side offered the best chance to break down QPR’s defense and create gaps in the box.

Valencia had another great game, but he struggled at times to deal with QPR double-teaming him with Taiwo and Taarabt. Valencia managed to complete 94% of his passes, and put 10 crosses into the box, but he wasn’t able to repeat the exceptional form he displayed against Blackburn. Taye Taiwo, QPR’s left-back, played well against Valencia and prevented the Ecuadorian from having the success he had previously running straight at the left back.

While Valencia had a good day, Rafael had a better day on offense. He was frequently able to take advantage of some lax defending by Adel Taarabt, which gave him room to operate and he was able to make frequent runs into the box from the right channel. He was able to drive in the box, and had a good scoring chance in the 59th minute. Paul Scholes passed onto an unmarked Rafael in the right side of the box, but he took a poor shot that Kenny was able to get a piece of that then deflected off the far post and QPR was able to clear it.

Wayne Rooney played a good game, starting up front with Danny Welbeck. United’s talisman got some great opportunities after QPR were reduced to 10-men. He was able to take advantage of the space in front of Anton Ferdinand and Clint Hill, left when Diakite and Buzsaky would step out to put pressure on Carrick and Scholes when they had the ball. He didn’t need to drop as deep for the ball as he had to against Fulham and Blackburn, and this gave him constant opportunities in the middle of the pitch. He was frequently able to work short passes between QPR’s line to Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia, while also playing some dangerous one-twos at the top of the box with Danny Welbeck but the chances were often wasted.

As the game wore on, and United started to press forward, Rooney was key in moving the ball around QPR’s defense. He was often shuttling from wing to wing just outside the box, moving and trying to thread the ball between QPR’s midfield line onto runs by Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes. Wayne Rooney took 7 shots during the game, but 5 of them came in the first half. In the second half, he became more important as he tried to create the chances rather than taking the shots himself.

Midfield Maestro

Paul Scholes put on another master class in the middle of the pitch for Manchester United. He was able to control possession for United, played his cross field passes to move the ball from wing to wing. This type of control was vital for the Red Devils, as they struggled with their finishing all game. He was able to make his long diagonal passes, putting it out wide on the right side to Antonio Valencia, trying to give the right-wing a chance to pressure the Ranger’s left-back. He also played well, linking up with Michael Carrick and Wayne Rooney to try and play the ball into the gap between the lines of QPR. In the second half, both Scholes and Carrick made dangerous forward runs from deep in the midfield into the center of QPR’s defense. As the game went along, both midfielders came forward more to apply more pressure on the Rangers defense, and these runs created chances that United eventually converted into the second goal of the game.

He put in the second goal for United, to ensure that Manchester United would collect all 3 points from this fixture. Off a United corner, Taiwo cleared it out of the box to Adel Taarabt, who made a terrible decision to not clear the ball away. Instead, his pass was easily intercepted by Rafael who passed it to the middle of the pitch and a waiting Paul Scholes. The 37-year old midfielder tee’d up the ball and ripped a powerful shot to the far post by a diving Paddy Kenny.

With Manchester United taking a 2-0 lead, Sir Alex Ferguson brought Ryan Giggs, Tom Cleverley and Phil Jones on for Ashley Young, Paul Scholes and Rafael. Paul Scholes got a well-deserved standing ovation from the Old Trafford faithful for a nearly flawless performance. With Paul Scholes coming off, his much-talked about possible successor came onto the field and was put out on the left wing. Tom Cleverley had a great start to the season, but he missed a large part of the season after suffering some ankle injuries. But Tom Cleverley showed some of what he is capable today; giving United a fairly dangerous attack from a position that he doesn’t play much. He completed all of his 20 passes, and he managed to take 2 decent shots on goal. His play looked good, as he was always looking to come forward into a dangerous position and apply pressure on QPR’s defense.


This game was decided in the 14th minute when Queens Park Rangers was reduced to 10-men on a mistaken penalty call. Once QPR was reduced to 10 men, they had no real offensive opportunities and were forced to sit deep and absorb the constant pressure that United applied to them. Manchester United was able to bring men forward, and there were times in the game when United had 8 players within 35 yards of QPR’s goal. Paul Scholes put forward another great performance, dominating the midfield and controlling the play. While most of United’s attacks came from the right side, the main area of control for United came at the top of the penalty area. QPR’s central midfielders stepped forward to press Carrick and Scholes with the ball, but this left gaps which Welbeck and Rooney were able to take advantage of but United was plagued by some lackluster finishing.

Action Zone

While United was able to dominate the game, the fact that they were only able to win the game by 2-0 after QPR was left playing with 10-men for 75 minutes. United was able to completely control possession, and played almost half of the game in QPR’s end of the field. Stats like this should be followed by a scoreline of 4-0 or something similar. But for Manchester United to beat a short-handed Queens Park Rangers 2-0, with one of the goals being a mistaken penalty, it just highlights the wasted chances. The wasted opportunities today didn’t alter the outcome, but to continue to waste great chances in front of the goal will eventually come back to bite United.

By RangeRooney (@RangeRooney)

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