Preamble In her 1990 single Get Here, an epic meditation on ends and means, the legendary Oleta Adams implored: "I don't care how you get here, get here if you can." And while a small percentage of Manchester United fans justly want to see football as taught by Matt Busby, the majority will be happy for United to beat Manchester City in this season's title race by any means possible. For the majority of the season City have been playing football from the future while United have been playing football from 1989, yet if United win at Loftus Road today they will go top of the league, at least for a few hours. There are a few reasons for this – none greater than the form of the peerless Nemanja Vidic before his injury – but essentially it defies reason. Fitba? Kinell.
Previously on QPR v Manchester United... The history of this fixture is all about one man: Dennis Bailey, who gave Old Trafford an almighty new year hangover in 1992. It is one of the most joyously improbable stories in modern football history, and because of that it obscured the fact that, in the modern era, QPR v United at Loftus Road has often been a storming fixture.
There was a famous FA Cup tie in 1989, when the first crop of Fergie Fledglings breathed life into a miserable team, and all four Premier League fixtures have been crackers. United won 3-2 twice in 1994 (this game and this game), both times surviving a furious late assault from an excellent Rangers side, and also triumphed 3-1 in a feisty Monday-night game in 1993. And in 1995-96, Eric Cantona continued his astonishing march to the Double with a 147th-minute equaliser that put United top for the first time in six months.
Team news Sir Alex Ferguson has named an unchanged side for only the third time in the last four seasons. Javier Hernandez makes an unexpected return to the subs bench. There is also the potential for some Berbarotica later in the day. QPR bring in Matthew Connolly and Heidar Helguson for, er, two other human beings who will soon be identified.
Queens Park Rangers (4-4-2) Cerny, Young, Gabbidon, Connolly, Traore; Mackie, Barton, Faurlin, Wright-Phillips; Bothroyd, Helguson.
Subs: Kenny, Orr, Hill, Derry, Taarabt, Campbell, Smith.
Manchester United (4-4-2) De Gea; Smalling, Evans, Ferdinand, Evra; Valencia, Jones, Carrick, Nani; Rooney, Welbeck.
Subs: Lindegaard, Fryers, Giggs, Park, Young, Berbatov, Hernandez.
Well done everyone! The first train from Manchester this morning got in to Euston at 11.02, 58 minutes before kick off. It takes at least 40 minutes to go from Euston to Loftus Road. What a sorry disgrace football has become. In other news, a book has just been released on this very subject.
An email "Morning Rob, morning everyone," says Ben Hendy. "This week I'd seen some hints that Paul Pogba might well be getting an opportunity in midfield and yet now he's not even on the bench. Fergie is always held up as an example for giving youth a chance but he seems to turn against some players for some reason, be it attitude or something else. Has Pogba fallen foul of this? With such lack of depth in central midfield it seems a little pigheaded not to try out Pogba – at least have him on the bench – is Fergie doing this out of stubbornness to try to prove critics wrong perhaps? You would have thought it even more important given that the money doesn't seem to be there to bring in replacements…"
Fergie has hardly brought anyone through since 1995, although in his defence he hasn't got many wrong: only Rossi and Pique spring to mind, and the sale of the latter was the right decision at the time. I suspect Pogba will leave in the summer, and possibly Ravel Morrison too. They are two unbelievable talents, but it's not easy to fit them into the team at the moment: Pogba's defensive discipline isn't good enough for him to play in a 4-4-2, and Morrison might have Joe Cole syndrome in the sense that managers aren't sure what position he can play in Big Boys' English Football (although I can't stress enough what a glorious player he is).
I think Jose Mourinho is partly responsible for all this, in that he raised the bar so high that the old Fergie way of coasting till Christmas (which allowed him to give kids a few games here and there, like Ronnie Wallwork at the start of 2000-01) before hitting top gear is no longer an option. Every game is a must-win game; perverse as it sounds, that wasn't always the case.
1 min Manchester United kick off from left to right. They are in red; QPR are in blue-and-white hoops. There's a cracking atmosphere at Loftus Road, a proper football ground and no mistake.
GOAL! QPR 0-1 Manchester United (Rooney 1) What a start from Manchester United! It's the old firm of Rooney and Valencia, who always combine so well. Rooney played a first-time ball wide to Valencia and then darted towards the far post. Valencia picked out an excellent deep cross and Rooney contorted his body cleverly to header the ball down into the ground and into the net. The goal came after 53 seconds.
3 min That was almost 2-0. Nani played a delicious straight pass down the side of the defence for Welbeck, who made an excellent angled run into the area. He got to the ball a fraction before the covering Gabbidon, but his first-time shot from eight yards was blocked by a combination of Gabbidon and the keeper Cerny.
5 min United have started at a furious pace, the sort of pace they played at in that stunning fortnight at the start of the season. QPR have their first attack, and Wright-Phillips shoots over from 20 yards.
6 min A decent chance for QPR. Barton drilles a right-wing corner towards Helguson, who gets a run on Smalling and heads just wide of the near post from 12 yards. This has been a breathless start.
7 min Nani almost scores a second for United. He slipped away from Traore on the right wing with a lovely nutmeg, sped into the box and then saw his close-range shot blocked at the expense of a corner.
8 min "Pogba and Morrison to be shipped out in the summer?" says Fred Lane. "I can understand Pogba wanting away, since he's not rooted in the club, but surely SAF has invested so much in Morrison – a local lad – that he will want him to blossom fully at Old Trafford. A season with a lower-league club close enough to Manchester for him to commute might be the best option." Oh I don't think they'll be shipped out – not even Fergie would do that. But apparently they are both out of contract (although there is some confusion about Morrison) and want
to grab as much money as is physically possible, like almost all modern footballers first-team football.
9 min United look so much better when Antonio Valencia is playing well, as he is here. It means moving Nani to the left, which is not ideal, but I would take Nani and Valencia over Nani and Young all day.
10 min When I made that comment about the trains, Barry Glendenning warned me that someone would fling hilariious banter about all Manchester United fans being from the home counties. Step forward Tom Astin. "Have no fear! Trains from Surrey, Kent, Essex and Hampshire will no doubt have transported the diehard United fans from those respective counties to this match with plenty of time to spare so all's well that ends well.......no?" No.
13 min QPR have responded well to going behind, and are having a decent little spell, although United are counter-attacking with enormous menace.
14 min Carrick plays a delicious give-and-go with Rooney, bursts into the box and is crowded out by a couple of defenders. The resulting corner is punched away unconvincingly by Cerny. After a couple of months out of form/sulking about his Euro 2012 suspension, Rooney looks right on it again.
16 min A statgasm from my colleague Simon Burnton: before this weekend QPR were eighth on first-half record, but 20th on second-half record. Weirdly, Bolton were 16th on first-half record, 15th on second-half record, but 20th overall.
17 min Rooney is cleaned out by Connolly, who took man and ball, but Howard Webb waves play on and QPR break. Mackie slips away from the increasingly inept Evra – who may have handled the ball just outside the area – and then plays it square for England's Jay Bothroyd, who sweeps a shot high over the bar from 18 yards. Rio Ferdinand is booked for giving Howard Webb what and for about the Connolly challenge, which was pretty robust. The angle of the replay wasn't great, so I'm not sure whether he took ball or ankle first.
20 min QPR are getting right back into this. The pace of the match has been furious.
23 min Nani lays the ball back to Phil Jones, who drags a shot wide of the near post from 20 yards.
24 min Danny Welbeck has a goal disallowed for offside. He was put through by a lovely angled pass from Rooney and passed the ball calmly under Cerny, but the flag had gone up. That was a desperately close decision, and could have gone either way. On balance I reckon his big toe was just offside, although I'd like to see another replay.
25 min Gabbidon is booked for kicking Valencia, who is booed for being kicked.
26 min "Here's one reason you can support anyone you like, Tom Astin," begins Mac Millings. "If I was from, say, Gillingham, there's no way I would support that team, purely on the basis that other people from Gillingham presumably did, and, as we all know, everyone from Gillingham is a cee. The same goes for all other towns and cities of England. The only logical conclusion is that everyone of sound mind must support a team from another town, preferably one they've never been to, so that they can, at least, pretend that not every resident in that far-off place is a complete effing a-hole." He didn't actually type a-hole. Or effing. Or cee.
27 min Jonny Evans hits the bar from three yards. (The QPR bar, I should stress.) Cerny came for Nani's left-wing corner and was nowhere near it. Welbeck flicked the ball on at the near post and Evans headed it onto the top of the bar. It was a sitter really, although he couldn't quite get over the ball.
29 min Cerny makes a crucial save from Phil Jones. It was a majestic counter-attack from United. Smalling won possession and found Rooney, who played a beautiful angled through ball for Jones, marauding imperiously beyond the defence. He galloped to within 17 yards of goal before trying to pass the ball into the far corner, and Cerny stretched out his right foot to deflect it wide for a corner. Ray Wilkins describes Jones's run as "Bryan Robson-like", so now he has been compared to Duncan Edwards, Paul McGrath, Bryan Robson, Fernando Hierro, Franco Baresi and Tom Lutz.
31 min Cerny has made another wonderful save. Nani made Luke Young look stupid on the left of the box and then played it back to Rooney, 12 yards from goal. His sidefooted shot was blocked, and Valencia's sidefooted follow up from six yards was wonderfully saved by Cerny, who was on the floor for the Rooney shot and sprung to his feet to save with his outstretched right hand. From the resulting corner, Jonny Evans's 12-yard header is kicked off the line by Faurlin. United should be about 8-0 up here.
32 min United should be about 8-1 up here. De Gea has just saved with his left foot from Helguson. He ran at Smalling on the edge of the box and then dragged a shot back across goal, through the legs of Smalling I think. It was a bit of a dribbler, and De Gea stuck out his left foot to save.
34 min Rooney has been excellent. He's dropping off a lot today, playing in his old No10 role. United's formation is more 4-2-3-1 than 4-4-2.
38 min In many ways, United have had a poor season so far, yet only twice under Sir Alex Ferguson have they had more points after 15 games, in 1993-94 and 2006-07. They have been excellent here, and the key – as almost always when a Sir Alex Ferguson side plays well – is their tempo. A few of United's best seasons under Ferguson have involved an almighty kick up the backside, most obviously the defeat to Manchester City in 2002-03. If they do win the title this year, the match in Basel will have been their most important league game.
40 min Not much is happening at the moment.
41 min Helguson sidefoots a volley wide from four yards, although a foul had been given for a push by England's Jay Bothroyd on Rio Ferdinand.
42 min "What is Georgina Turner's name doing attached to this desperate project?" says Mac Millings. "Is she some sort of literary beard? I was going to suggest she was doing it for the money, but then I saw your Amazon ranking. 'See Top 100 in Books', it says. Not from 18,875th place you can't."
44 min QPR have played some decent, urgent stuff going forward, and will fancy their chances while it's still 1-0. United really should be out of sight.
45 min Mackie, who is causing Evra almost as many problems as Evra is causing himself, wins a corner on the right. It's drilled deep by Barton and flicked away by Smalling. The ball is recycled, and a glorious low cross from Bothroyd on the left of the box goes right along the face of goal with Jonny Evans debating whether to hoof it into his own net.
Half time: QPR 0-1 Manchester United Midday games are often somnolent, but that was a cracking half of urgent, aggressive football. See you in 10 minutes.
"You can add 'a young Roy Keane' to the list of people Phil Jones has been compared to thanks to Phil Neville" – Peter Harmer.
"Whilst hyperbole will inevitably surround him due to his nationality, it's easy to forget how good Wayne Rooney is. His spatial awareness may not be as celestial as Xavi but it's still absolutely excellent" – Colin Gardner.
"Can you please inform Mac Millings that he is incorrect. You can admire and watch any team, but you cannot "support" any team. I can admire and watch Barcelona, but I do not support them. He would have a point if everyone who "chose" teams didn't choose Man United, Arsenal, Milan, Barcelona etc, and then quietly forget this when they go off the boil. Not many Newcastle fans around the UK these days. This introduces the Martin O'Neill caveat, which states if you choose a team and stick with it through thick and thin, then after a period of more than 10 years of non winning, you may be accepted, as MO'N has seemingly done with Sunderland. This is the same policy I implement for all the Man U / Arsenal fans who support them as 'their mum / dad is from there'. This never happens when your dad is from Northampton! I await abuse from people who are trying to justify themselves" – Rob Smith.
46 min Rooney almost scores after 19 seconds of the second half. He ran onto a long angled pass from Valencia and would have been through on goal but for an iffy first touch. Instead he collected the ball on the left of the area, turned inside and shot through the legs of Young but straight at Cerny from 12 yards. Gabbidon wasn't even on the pitch at the time; the second half starterd with Rangers having only ten players.
48 min United have started the second half magnificently, and Rooney's shot from 10 yards is blocked by a defender.
49 min "What has happened to Evra and why is he captain?" says Adam Roberts. "He is becoming an embarrassment and generally you'd get better defending from a training cone." He has been shot for a while now. Hard to know why. The 2010 World Cup business is one possible reason; another is that he has probably been rested/injured the least of all United's players in the last five years, so he has played a helluva lot of football.
50 min "Can I be the first to compare young Phil to Lionel Messi," says Rob Smith, "in that he is nothing like the mercurial little Argentinian." He reminds me a lot of Franz Scirea.
51 min The pace of the game is fantastic; there's barely been a pause for breath. A sloppy pass from Welbeck jiggers a three-on-three United break.
54 min "Brown, O'Shea, Evans, Rafael, Fabio, Gibson, Fletcher, Welbeck and Cleverley have all become regular members of the first team squad since 2000," says Simon Horwell. "Countless others have been on the periphery and made excelled careers elsewhere including Rossi, Pique, Shawcross, Simpson, Richardson, Eagles and Obertan. Nani, Anderson, Ronaldo, Rooney, Smalling and Jones were all signed as teenagers. And all since 2000. So I'm not sure where all the pessimism about Pogba and Morrison's future is coming from. Utd have probably the most successful integration of young players in the country when you consider the trophy haul. The average age of a premier league debut has risen to 22 in recent times. In Utd's starting XI today only Ferdinand, Evra and Carrick are over 26. The problem is people expecting too much, too soon; not Fergie not bringing players through anymore." There's some good players in that first list but no greats (and two Irish clowns), and I'd say only Fletcher was close to indispensible over an extended period of time. I don't think, for example, Fergie would have the courage to do now what he did in 1995, even if he had a crop of players as good. (Although it's hypothetical, as he'll never have another crop like that again.) Surely, at the very least, Pogba and Morrison should have started all the Milk Cup games.
GOAL! QPR 0-2 Manchester United (Carrick 56) Michael Carrick scores a fine goal, a nice reward for some wonderful recent performances. He intercepted an errant pass from Joey Barton just inside the United half, moved sweetly past Faurlin and then ran to the edge of the area before passing a low shot that went through the right hand of Cerny and into the net. Cerny should have done better because it was nowhere near the corner, although it was all along the floor so he had to get right down to it. Barton certainly should have done better and puts his hand up in apology. Expect an overload of quotes from Chomsky, Nietzsche, Morrissey, Orwell, Aristotle and the rest on Twitter tonight as he tries to make sense of it all.
59 min That could have been 3-0. After a United corner was half cleared, Valencia leathered a low cross from the right of the box. Evans, stretching, only got half a touch on it, and as the ball bounced up awkwardly Rooney knocked it over the bar at the far post.
61 min Phil Jones is booked for a foul on England's Jay Bothroyd.
62 min "Regarding this whole support-your-local-team willy-swinging," begins Harry Tuttle, "I'm reminded of Harry Pearson's remark that supporting a football team is one of the few areas in British public life where you will find men bragging about their fidelity."
62 min Another cracking save from Cerny after a delightful counter-attack from United. Ferdinand found the increasingly majestic Rooney, who moved it on brilliantly to Welbeck down the left. He ran 30 yards, came infield and curled a fine shot towards the far corner. Cerny leapt to his left and turned it over with his right hand. That's Welbeck's last touch: he is replaced by Javier Hernandez before the corner can be taken. When the corner is eventually taken, Evans heads against the post, although I think a foul had been given.
64 min "Can I be the first person to compare Phil Jones to himself?" says Darryl Short. "His ability to play and perform in central midfield reminds of the Phil Jones of last month."
65 min QPR make a double substitution: Adel Taarabt and DJ Campbell replace Shaun Wright-Phillips and Heidar Helguson.
68 min Mackie wins a corner down the right for QPR. Barton swings it in and De Gea claims confidently.
69 min Phil Jones hits the post with a beautiful effort. He played a give-and-go with Nani, moved to the edge of the box, and then, using Gabbidon as a screen, simply passed the ball low towards the right corner with his right foot. Cerny was beaten and the ball hit the face of the post. Ten seconds later, after another smooth one-two, Nani's shot from the left edge of the six-yard box was beaten away by Cerny. United have shredded QPR with one-twos today.
70 min Jones feeds Rooney, gallops majestically onto the return ball and is only denied by a superb last-ditch tackle from Connolly.
72 min Valencia's low shot from the right of the box is saved by the plunging Cerny. This could easily be 5-0.
73 min "Darren Gibson has, so far, always looked a wee bit out of his depth, but John O' Shea was one of the most likeable United players of the Sky-age, if you ask me," says Harry Tuttle. "Which you, erm, didn't." Oh I wasn't talking about him, although now you mention it.
74 min Sky's co-commentator Ray Wilkins has just used the phrase "I'm sure the ladies love it." Don't do that again, Ray, please.
75 min DJ Campbell misses from four yards. God knows how. Taarabt, on the right of the box, curved a stunning cross in between De Gea and the United defenders. Campbell got to it but somehow cushioned a lobbed volley onto the top of the net. Hang the DJ, etcetera. No, Joey, not literally. Moments later, the injured Jay Bothroys is replaced by Clint Hill.
76 min "Can I be the first to compare Phil Jones to a man who has stepped on a plug with bare feet?" says Michael Sutcliffe.
77 min Traore is down and in pain after a collision with Evans. QPR have used all three subs, although I suspect he'll be fine.
78 min On a ground where he scored a gorgeous goal in 1994, Ryan Giggs replaces the masterful Wayne Rooney.
79 min "Why," says Lizwe Cee, "do we use the term 'gallops' everytime Phil Jones makes a run for it?" Because he's the new Red Rum?
80 min Ryan Giggs is now being booed. "It's a strange world in which we live," weeps Ray Wilkins. Giggs will play off Hernandez.
81 min Another missed chance for United. Giggs played Nani through on the left; he could have gone for goal but instead decided to pass it square, 10 yards from goal, and it was booted clear.
83 min This has been, by some distance, United's best away performance since they eviscerated Bolton 5-0 in September, and possibly their best of the season.
84 min "Due to his loveliness and warmth, I shall compare Phil Jones to a summer's day!" says Liam Driver.
85 min "Would it jinx it to say how well Evans has played today?" says John Purdue. "After the dogs abuse he gets when he plays well he's as good as any young centre back in the league." He has been very good today. He often gets bullied by big lumps up front, but he has coped well with the aerial stuff today. He still makes far too many fundamental errors for a Manchester United centre-back, though.
86 min Jones goes down in the area after a clumsy tackle from Gabbidon. I don't think Gabbidon got the ball, but Howard Webb didn't seem interested. Jones may just have run into Gabbidon; hard to be sure without seeing a replay.
87 min Society is finished department: Alan Parry has just read out some mid-match tweets from the QPR owner Tony Fernandes. STOP TWITTER. In other news, Ashley Young replaces the superb Nani.
89 min "You said the match could have been 8-0 earlier, and now it could have been 5-0," says Ronan. "Have the IMF got involved with the MBM now and told you to rein in your theoretical score in line with inflation?"
90 min There will be three minutes of added time.
90+1 min After a diabolical free-kick from Joey Barton, United break and Young's curling shot from the left side of the box is straight at Cerny
Full time: QPR 0-2 Manchester United That was one of the most emphatic 2-0 away wins imaginable. It could have been 7-0. United were extremely good and, for the next few hours at least, they are top of the table. Thanks for your emails; night.