Sunday 18 December, kick off 12:00 (BST)
By Sean McGuire
The Christmas period in the Premier League football calender is always one which provides excitement, shock results, postponed matches, fixture pile-ups and Father Christmas hats claiming that Santa is a fan of whichever club you support. The best part of all is there is usually some sort of football on every day.
Over the years the busy Christmas schedule has separated the serious title challengers from the mere also-rans. It has exposed fair-weather players who are used to beach football and post-match barbecues and it has tested the depth of every managers squad to the limit.
We have seen the snood make a fleeting appearance, only to be banned shortly after for its ridiculousness, although covering Tevez’s face is not always a bad idea. Stockings have a double use of hanging by the fireplace and being worn by those who suffer from cold knees; and gloves become standard issue from the kit man, who works hard for his money at this time of year. However, despite the cold weather the metaphorical gloves are off for those who dream of lifting the Premier League trophy in may.
The twelve days of Christmas will send us our true love, Manchester United, on a regular basis and Sir Alex Ferguson’s mission of being on top the pile come January starts with the first of five league matches in seventeen days with a trip to London against a resurgent Queens Park Rangers.
After United’s 4-1 hammering of Wolves at Old Trafford last week the Reds have rediscovered their goalscoring touch with both Nani and Rooney ending their droughts by scoring two apiece. They will look to continue this form against Neil Warnock’s men as a win would put United momentarily back on top of the league and give them a psychological edge over neighbours City who play an hour later against Arsenal.
United have gone six games unbeaten in the league since that fateful day at Old Trafford against the noisy neighbours and it still remains their only Premier League defeat of the season. Queens Park Rangers have won two of the last six games since their hard-earned victory over London rivals Chelsea in October.
The Reds have not met QPR in the league since 1996 when an injury time goal from Eric Cantona damaged the London side’s survival hopes and helped United to maintain their title challenge. Loftus Road in the early Premier League years always provided a classic football match including two 3-2 thrillers and wonder goal from Ryan Giggs Watch Video. Many United fans will never forget the hammering that QPR dished out to the Reds exactly 20 years ago on New Years Day. Four wins and a draw over the Christmas period saw Sir Alex Ferguson lift the manager of the month award, only for Dennis Bailey to fire in a hat-trick for the hoops in a 4-1 scoreline at Old Trafford.
United go into the game decimated by injuries all over the field. The back four picks itself with Ferdinand and Evans at Centre-back and Smalling and Evra taking up the fullback positions. Vidic is out for the season with a knee injury and the Da Silva Twins are still sidelined. Zeki Fryers may be among the substitutes for cover after making his Premier League debut against Wolves last Saturday from the bench.
Phil Jones could play along the back four, however the sad news about Darren Fletcher’s long term illness means that United are short of Central midfielders and so the nineteen-year-old may continue in the middle of the park along side Michael Carrick. Ryan Giggs and Ji Sung Park could also play as improvised midfielders. Cleverley and Anderson are still out injured. Ashley Young and Nani are likely to start out wide.
The Reds attacking options are still fairly limited so Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck will start up front if Sir Alex Ferguson decides to go 4-4-2. Federico Macheda will be on the substitutes bench as Berbatov, Owen and Hernandez are still out injured.
Hoops top scorer Helguson should return after a groin strain, however Anton Ferdinand may be doubtful after he picked up a hamstring injury. Cerny may continue in goal for Rangers after he continues to impress in the absence of Paddy Kenny.
This year’s Christmas period is proving to be as busy as ever and United will have to see through five games in seventeen days with a depleted squad. This could also be a pivotal period for the Reds as they look to complete their short-term mission of being on top of the league by January 1st.
United: De Gea, Lindegaard, Amos, Smalling, Evra, Fryers, R.Ferdinand, Evans, Jones, Carrick, Gibson, Giggs, Park, Morrison, Pogba, Young, Nani, Valencia, Rooney, Welbeck, Macheda, Diouf.
Injured: Fabio, Rafael, Vidic, Anderson, Cleverley, Fletcher, Berbatov, Hernandez, Owen,
QPR : Cerny, Kenny, Putniņš, Orr, A. Ferdinand, Hill, Hall, Shittu, Young, Connolly, Derry, Gabbidon, Faurlin, Mackie, Traore, Moen, Buzsaky, Perone, Taarabt, Barton, Andrade, Wright-Phillips, Campbell, Bothroyd, Smith, Helguson, Puncheon.
Injured: Murphy, Hulse, Dyer
Doubtful: A.Ferdinand, Taarabt, Kenny
Referee: Howard Webb
Ground: Loftus Road
By Sean McGuire
For more stoires like this follow @SeanMc1999
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