It'll be another edition of David vs. Goliath in the English Premier League when Manchester United travel to London to take on Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road on Sunday. QPR have been surprisingly competitive in their first season back in the top level of English football, though 16 points in 15 matches is hardly enough for any club to get too excited about.
Meanwhile, the Red Devils remain just two points behind Manchester City, the "noisy neighbors," for the league lead, despite battling a seemingly never-ending slew of injuries. United haven't lost in their last seven visits to Loftus Road, while QPR have notched just one victory at home this season.
Where: Loftus Road, London, England
When: Sunday, December 18 at 7:00 a.m. EST
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Live Stream: FoxSoccer.tv, Sport.TV Liga Inglesa
Player To Watch for QPR: Shaun Wright-Phillips
QPR boss Neil Warnock and chairman Tony Fernandes did well to fill out their squad with affordable veterans upon moving up from the Championship, with Shaun Wright-Phillips among their most notable acquisitions. The 30-year-old winger, formerly of Manchester City and Chelsea fame, has taken more shots than anyone else at Hoops, though he's yet to put one through for a goal.
With Man U's midfield ravaged by poor fitness, Wright-Phillips will need to take advantage of the opportunities afforded him, whether it be on his own or with Heidar Helguson, QPR's top scorer, taking care of business.
Player To Watch for Manchester United: Nani
Amidst streaky play by Wayne Rooney and injuries to Chicharito and Danny Welbeck, Nani has been about the only member of Sir Alex Ferguson's attack who's been fit and in good form all season. The 25-year-old Portuguese winger has tallied five goals and five assists during the EPL campaign, including two goals and an assist in United's 4-1 win against Wolves at Old Trafford last Saturday.
If the Red Devils are to maintain the high-scoring form that made them the talk of the league in the early going, they'll need Nani to facilitate the action, especially with Tom Cleverley and Darren Fletcher sidelined.
Key Matchup: Phil Jones vs. Joey Barton
With United banged up all over the pitch, the task will likely fall to Phil Jones to move around the pitch to do Fergie's bidding. The 19-year-old has been a staple of the Red Devils' back four since moving up from Blackburn Rovers over the summer, but may need to fill in as a central midfielder instead.
Wherever he ends up, you can bet Joey Barton—known for his physical, borderline dirty, style of play—will do his best to torture the young Jones on the pitch. Hoops will need Barton to do just that—exploit United's weakness in the midfield—to keep this match within reach.
What They're Saying
The transfer rumor mill is just ramping up ahead of the January transfer window, with QPR and Man U both featured prominently in the gossip columns.
Ultimately, though, Warnock is concerned more with quantity than quality:
The board know we need some more players and they have been very supportive. We are on the lookout for four or five. I'm not saying they're all going to be big-name signings, but we need numbers in the squad.
As for United, their embarrassment of riches on the attack may not be such an embarrassment now that Federico Macheda is likely on the move. According to Giovanni Bia, Macheda's agent, Kiko is likely to go out on loan for the second time in as many seasons to make sure he sees time on the pitch:
I spoke last week with Ferguson: I think that Federico will play somewhere else in January. He can no longer continue to be on the field for only 15 or 20 minutes, he must absolutely find more space.
The 20-year-old Italian striker has been stuck behind the likes of Rooney, Chicharito, Dimitar Berbatov and Welbeck in Fergie's rotation.
Prediction: Manchester United 3, QPR 1
This match would get out of hand a lot sooner—and a lot worse—if it weren't for the infirmary full of injuries across United's first-team squad. Still, the Red Devils are far more talented and won't squander a golden opportunity to possibly pull ahead of Manchester City, pending what happens at the Etihad Stadium when Arsenal comes to town.