Rafael da Silva
In a week where Manchester United's Rafael has given a confident interview and Sir Alex Ferguson has singled him out for praise, it seems ironic that he might be Man of the Match.
The QPR clash was set up to be a nail-biter; more to do with their precarious position than the prospect of a 15-point lead for United. This was a seriously poor match where nobody on the home side came close to a captivating performance.
It is absolute nonsense that so many of Rangers' players are paid such ludicrous amounts of money. On the strength of this performance, you couldn't do much worse if you went and collected 11 players from the local parks.
OK so the pitch wasn't great. It was described as lively by both the commentators and Sir Alex. That was kind—although it did not resemble the barren wastes that characterised late winter in the old days, it was uneven, cold and hard.
For us ordinary mortals, it is sometimes hard to understand why top professionals with great technical skill can't play on any surface. After all, the Brazilians supposedly grow up playing on the beach.
Rafael lightens up a dreary game
Maybe that is what enabled Rafael to make a better fist of this match than most of his fellow professionals.
With the ball bouncing unevenly all over the place, Rafael would deservedly win goal of the season for his 35-yard, first-time belter.
The goal came out of very little. Ryan Giggs slid a nice pass forward to Robin van Persie who injured himself falling over a cameraman while getting the ball past two defenders.
Julio Cesar somehow managed to bat the ball away and Rafael, hanging around near the halfway line, ran straight towards it, smashing it into the top left corner.
Only minutes later, he was back on his goal line to make a last ditch clearance. He followed that up with a sublime 40-yard curling pass right into the path of the hobbling Van Persie who just side-footed wide.
Rafael didn't do a great deal else that was outstanding, but he was tidy in defence and linked up well, first with Nani and then with Valencia, after he was substituted for Young.
Nobody was going to really stand out with the state of the pitch except for a long pass, a great piece of skill, a stunning save or another jaw-dropping goal.
De Gea did in fact make such a save on a shot from the newly arrived £8 million signing Loic Remy, who actually chose to come to QPR like Chris Samba did. What must they have been thinking?
Other than that, the keeper was hardly challenged—neither were many of the other United players. Nevertheless, this could easily have been a banana skin on such an unpredictable pitch.
Once again the defence was solid, but Samba was so poor that even when he wriggled free, he clearly had forgotten where the goal was.
There were two other standout performances, however.
At this rate, Nani is going to wriggle his way back into the hearts of United supporters and the affections of Sir Alex. The latter had already picked him out as the best player against Reading, and he pretty much carried on where he had left off last Monday.
He looked far more comfortable on the ball than anyone else and reminded us once again what technical skill he has. He is making a better fist of deciding when to shoot and when to pass. One of his several good passes was an excellent cross-field ball to Valencia. Giggs hit a delightful chip onto the bar from the Ecuadorian's pass.
Nani did however get an assist earlier. Welbeck had looked effective as soon as he came on but lost the ball in the QPR penalty area. When he regained it, he passed to Nani who slipped it through to Giggs. The Welshman produced yet another clinical finish to sew up the points.
Indeed, Giggs was the third of United's best players. If his had been the only goal of the match, he might have sneaked the best player accolade.
He and the oncoming Wayne Rooney were increasingly dangerous against a QPR side who looked like they were already thinking about Southampton.
But Rafael just steals it for two reasons: a contender for goal of the season that came out of the blue and woke up what was drifting towards stalemate and yet another all-round effective performance entirely in keeping with his contention for player of the season so far.