• Full-back's thunderbolt caught everyone by surprise at QPR
• Harry Redknapp still clings to hope he can keep QPR up
Perhaps it is the absence of self-doubt that makes a good player great. When a bouncing ball fell to Rafael da Silva 25 yards from goal on a terrible pitch, most would have expected him to choose the safe option, shuffle the ball out wide and let another Manchester United attack develop at a more controlled pace. No one could have predicted what would happen instead and everyone was getting ready to scoff as they realised he was preparing to shoot.
How wrong we all were. Barely a second had elapsed before his rocket, struck on the rise, had screamed past a bewildered Júlio César in the Queens Park Rangers goal and into the top-right corner for the full-back's third goal of the season. It was a moment of such absurd fantasy that the only appropriate reaction from those watching was laughter, once jaws had safely been extracted from the floor. The boy from Brazil is a very special talent indeed.
"I saw the ball coming towards me, I just hit straight through it and I knew when I hit it, you get that feeling. I just hoped and didn't want to blink," he told MUTV. "I can't remember scoring as good a goal. I scored a goal against Liverpool but it was not the same, I curled the ball. I will watch my goal and everyone will say 'what a goal'." They will say it over and over again.
The 22-year-old right-back, who can be impetuous, has admittedly endured some difficult times, not least when he was taken off during the first half of an anarchic 4-3 win at Reading in December, or when Fábio Coentrão, Angel Di María, Cristiano Ronaldo and Mesut Ozil took it in turns to torment him during the first leg of United's Champions League last-16 tie at Real Madrid.
Yet on that evening he demonstrated his faith in his own ability by improving sufficiently in the second half to snuff out Real's threat on their left flank, offering hope that he can cope with Ronaldo and company when José Mourinho's side visit Old Trafford for the second leg next Tuesday. Against QPR, Da Silva was outstanding, clearing a Christopher Samba header off the line and almost creating a goal for Robin van Persie with a pass of such quality that it could have been David Beckham running up the right for United.
The league leaders were rarely in trouble against QPR and sealed a comfortable victory with a late goal from Ryan Giggs, who beat Júlio César emphatically after being played through by Nani. Making his 999th competitive appearance, the 39-year-old's standards remain bafflingly high.
"He is an unbelievable player," Da Silva said. "He works hard, scores, makes assists. It is getting boring. He is the same in training, he just loves to play the game. He gives us experience, confidence, and when you are feeling bad he comes and helps you. Sometimes a young player finds it tough going and he helps them. He spoke to me a lot when I was young."
The one setback for United was the injury Van Persie suffered in the buildup to Da Silva's goal, when he tumbled down a hole left for a cameraman behind the pitch. It left the striker with a sore hip and he was replaced by Danny Welbeck after 41 minutes, although given that he had played on for another 18 minutes and nearly scored in that time, his participation against Real should not be in doubt.
QPR are bottom with 11 games left and Harry Redknapp spoke of his belief that his side can stay up – they are seven points behind 17th-placed Wigan Athletic – if Loïc Rémy and Bobby Zamora form a fruitful partnership up front. Yet Zamora is playing through the pain barrier, needs an operation on a hip injury and limped through an excruciating 61 minutes with an injured ankle.
Next for QPR is a trip to Southampton, who were managed by Redknapp when they were relegated in 2005. The former Portsmouth manager is unlikely to receive a warm welcome from the locals at St Mary's. "It's my birthday next week and I thought there's no better way to have my birthday than stand there and get abused for 90 minutes at Southampton football club," Redknapp said. "I thought they'll be calling me 'Scummer from Portsmouth'. And I thought that's a good way to spend my 66th birthday."
Man of the match Rafael da Silva (Manchester United)