Effortless United pile pressure on rivals City
Published 24/02/2013 | 04:00
It is going to take something special to deny Manchester United their 20th title now. This victory against an abject Queens Park Rangers, which was never as close as the scoreline suggests, moved them 15 points clear of Manchester City, who will know the gig is all but up if they fail to beat Chelsea this afternoon.
This is United's title to lose and the only worry for them was Robin van Persie's departure in the first half with a back injury.
This was a cruise for United against a QPR side who rarely had the wit, organisation or quality to make life remotely difficult for the league leaders. Still rooted to the bottom of the table, QPR's task is looking increasingly hopeless.
Since being crushed by Liverpool here in December, QPR had managed to hold Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City and Norwich City to goalless draws at Loftus Road, but draws alone will not lift them off the bottom of the table.
This is a team who came into this match having only won twice all season, and, given that United had not lost in the league since November, QPR's chances of springing a shock appeared minimal, at best.
After a fairly even start, United were firmly in control by the time they took the lead after 23 minutes with a stunning goal by Rafael da Silva.
The danger looked to be over when Julio Cesar had pushed out Van Persie's cross-shot from the right byline but no one inside the stadium could have predicted what would happen next. The ball fell to Da Silva, 25 yards from goal, and, with barely a moment's thought, he unleashed a vicious volley with his right foot that screamed into the top-right corner. Julio Cesar did not move an inch. Da Silva is unlikely to score a better goal in his entire career.
Minutes later, the Brazilian turned provider, charging up the right flank and sending a delicious crossfield pass over Christopher Samba's head and on to Van Persie's left foot. A goal looked inevitable but Julio Cesar, who had earlier pushed a looping header by Javier Hernandez over the bar, brilliantly tipped Van Persie's cushioned finish wide.
United could have been out of sight by the break but their finishing let them down, Nemanja Vidic also glancing a header inches wide.
QPR had not scored at home in the league since St Stephen's Day and rarely seemed capable of troubling United's defence, only going close when Da Silva, having a busy afternoon, booted Samba's header off the line.
The only concern for United was the sight of Van Persie limping off after 41 minutes, having tripped over a cameraman behind the goal in the build-up to Da Silva's goal. The sight of him clutching his back as he departed will have given United huge concern ahead of next week's visit of Real Madrid in the Champions League.
Danny Welbeck came on in Van Persie's place but United were no less menacing, refusing to allow QPR a touch for long periods.
In goal, David de Gea was a virtual spectator and Bobby Zamora, who had ended the first half feeling a knock, cut a sorry, isolated figure on his own in attack, unable to pose any problems for Vidic or Rio Ferdinand.
With Zamora more or less unable to even break into a light jog, QPR desperately needed to bring on Loic Remy, back in the squad after his absence with a groin injury, in order to give United something to think about. And sure enough, with the situation critical, Remy came on just after the hour, Redknapp putting Zamora out of his misery.
Remy did not take long to make an impact, finally forcing De Gea into his first save of the match, cutting in from the left and hitting a fierce drive that the United goalkeeper deflected over. From the resulting corner, Samba again threatened, only to head wide at the far post.
Sensing that his side had slightly lost their way, Alex Ferguson replaced Hernandez with Wayne Rooney, back after a sinus infection. Rooney and Welbeck were both denied by last-ditch blocks by Clint Hill and Jermaine Jenas as United went in search of a decisive second goal, before Ryan Giggs finished QPR off with 10 minutes left.
Played onside by Hill, he ran on to Nani's pass and ruthlessly swept the ball past Cesar. There was still time for Giggs to hit the bar with a mis-hit chip, before Welbeck wasted a fine chance. The sad truth for QPR, though, is that it was all too easy for United.