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Neil Humphreys
Wednesday, Sep 17, 2014

Sports

EPL: Van Gaal's United new boys clinch first win of the season

The New Paper | Neil Humphreys | Wednesday, Sep 17, 2014

Manchester United's Angel Di Maria (L) celebrates with teammate Wayne Rooney

The sleeping giants are slowly waking from their season-long slumber. August marked the start of the Louis van Gaal era, but his campaign truly began last night.

His new stars aligned for a scintillating display at Old Trafford. The northern lights are slowly returning to the red half of Manchester.

After David Moyes’ year of darkness, van Gaal has finally coated the side in glorious technicolour.

Angel di Maria illuminated the occasion, but he was one star in a twinkling constellation.

Queens Park Rangers were lucky to lose 4-0. Double figures looked a distinct possibility as van Gaal was rewarded for the first time for that stubborn Dutch courage.

Everything clicked. Formations fitted. Footballers functioned in their natural positions. The crowd were captivated from first minute to last.

The Gaal-acticos galloped home in a glorious performance.

Van Gaal went with four at the back and was rewarded with a sterling showing from both newcomer Marcos Rojo and returnee Rafael da Silva.

But his new boys in midfield were the real revelation.

DIAMOND

At the base of a midfield diamond, Daley Blind tidied up with the same efficiency witnessed at the World Cup and Ander Herrera linked up effectively with Juan Mata and the Man of the Moment beside him.

Why di Maria was allowed to leave a side famed for building sparking, Galactico-filled sides for a team transitioning quickly into a Premier League force will remain a mystery.

The Argentinian needed 24 minutes to display his mesmerising artistry.

From at least 35 metres out on the right flank, di Maria swung in a viciously bending free-kick towards the far post.

The ball swerved merrily past di Maria’s friends and foes alike until it nestled into the net, just inside the post. The free-kick was fast, but it left QPR furious.

Di Maria is winning Old Trafford hearts and mindful of his responsibilities.

His pay cheque may cause palpitations, but his football quickens pulses.

Ferguson once said that Ryan Giggs left fullbacks with twisted blood. Di Maria got the blood pumping in United’s veins, breathing life into the campaign and stirring a proud club’s sleeping soul.

Having scored the first somewhat fortuitously, he designed a fabulous second.

Combining finesse with formidable power, he crossed ballet with a bulldozer to pirouette along the left flank for a full 60m, brushing off defenders like an uncle flicking away flakes of dandruff. The icing came with a lovely reverse pass to Wayne Rooney in the 36th minute.

The England striker found Herrera at the second attempt and the Spanish midfielder thumped the bobbling ball into the bottom corner from 20m.

Rooney joined the scoring party on the stroke of half-time, smacking a drive past Green from outside the box.

For those keeping count, that was Rooney’s 175th Premier League goal, elevating him joint-third on the all-time goal scorers’ list in the top tier alongside Thierry Henry.

That said, QPR’s bumbling backline could not have been any more obliging if they’d rolled out the red carpet and waved Rooney through a row of trumpeters.

Even in September, QPR look a lot like a relegated side in waiting.

United owned the night. While Radamel Falcao earned a standing ovation just for warming up, Lady Luck linked with di Maria to direct his laughably inept and horribly mis-hit shot directly into Juan Mata’s path, with the goal gaping from six metres.

The Spaniard duly made it 4-0 on the 58th minute as the foraging Red Devils flattened the floodgates.

Everything a United player touched threatened to turn into gold, with di Maria’s flicked pass over QPR’s defence to Robin van Persie’s boot taking the breath away. The magic merited a goal.

It didn’t come. United finished on four. Oh, and Falcao made his debut in the second half.

Things can only better. The top four should be a formality.

npsports@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Sep 15, 2014.
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