Manchester United draw on familiar resolve ahead of trip to QPR
Premier League preview: QPR v Manchester United
Throughout their 19 years of Premier League dominance Manchester United have always been at their brutal best when the pressure is at its greatest and their season is on the line.
Self-doubt is rarely a trait associated with any side managed by Sir Alex Ferguson, and it was certainly not associated with the last team he took to Loftus Road, back in March 1996.
That day, the ‘kids’ of Manchester United – Beckham, Butt, Scholes and the Neville brothers – were locked in a title race with Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle, but found themselves trailing Ray Wilkins’ QPR 1-0, thanks to Denis Irwin’s own goal.
Their hopes of doing the ‘double Double’, winning the league and FA Cup for the second time in three years, were diminishing by the second.
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But then, in the 97th minute, up stepped Eric Cantona to grab a dramatic equaliser, and send the Red Devils above Newcastle to the top of the Premiership for the first time that season.
United went on to win the Premiership, and then added the FA Cup by beating Liverpool at Wembley, the team emerging as Sir Alex’s golden generation.
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Between that day and this, Manchester United have won 10 league titles and ousted Liverpool as the most successful side in English football. Yet ahead of their first trip to QPR for 15 years, their authority is being challenged like never before.
Trailing neighbours Manchester City at the top of the Premier League, and dumped out of the Champions League courtesy of a humiliating loss at Basle, United face the prospect of finishing the season trophyless. It is safe to say that the chips are down.
But in keeping with the great sides which have gone before them, the current crop of Manchester United players lack nothing in character, and they responded to that defeat in Switzerland with an emphatic 4-1 destruction of Wolves at Old Trafford on Saturday.
It was the first time United had scored more than two goals in a league match since their 3-1 win over Chelsea in September, and it suggested they have the resolve to recover from their European trauma.
At the heart of that win was Wayne Rooney, whose 10th and 11th goals of the season ended a drought which had seen him net just once in the previous eight games.
Rooney will head to Loftus Road as United’s dangerman, but this is a team which creates chances by the bucketful. Portuguese wide man Nani also scored a brace against Wolves to end his own spell without a goal, taking his tally for the campaign to five.
England striker Danny Welbeck is likely to keep his place, and his pace can cause Rangers serious problems as United look to play on the counter-attack.
Another key player is one who has only been at the club since the summer. Phil Jones, signed from Blackburn, is an imposing figure signed initially as a centre-back, but has caught the eye with a series of influential displays in midfield.
Just like 15 years ago, United know a result at Loftus Road will send them to the summit. At a red-hot Loftus Road Rangers will put them under pressure, but pressure is exactly what Sir Alex thrives on. 1-0 to United.
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