Beating QPR kicks off 'Cantona Week'

Posted by Mark Payne

John Peters/Man Utd/Getty ImagesEric Cantona's flair and fire defined Man United teams of the 1990s, yet today's squad is lacking the grit of those iconic squads.

On the 26th of November in 1992, Alex Ferguson signed Eric Cantona and thus transformed the history of Manchester United. Twenty years later, the club built a statue of the Scot and this week, King Eric was in town for the unveiling.

His former club still has the will to win and boasts the swagger that was on display in Eric's day, though the current crop doesn't convince quite as much. The 2012 vintage has much to praise but is sorely lacking the bit of grit that defined the United sides of the mid-90s.

This weekend at home to Queens Park Rangers, United began in a fairly lively fashion and seemed keen to banish the memory of the two recent limp defeats to Norwich and Galatasaray in the run-up to Saturday's match. Wayne Rooney's return was a welcome spark, so keenly felt was his absence in the attacking third.

However, by halftime United had fashioned little of note and the crowd was starting to get fed up. The sentence "United's midfield is not up to scratch" could appear in any match report from this season. That problem found a solution today when Anderson was introduced, as he was likely the only reason United went on to win 3-1.

Prior to the Brazilian coming on, United had been fairly useless and there was a suspicion that some of the players weren't up for the battle. Perhaps Ferguson's men assumed that QPR would be pushovers because of their league position (20th) and, until this morning's confirmation of Harry Redknapp, their lack of manager.

Again, Manchester United found themselves fighting a deficit thanks to Jamie Mackie's 54th-minute finish -- sadly, it seems as if the Reds' masochistic tendency to concede first is here to stay. God help them if the Champions League knockouts should offer up a tie against Real Madrid or Borussia Dortmund.

Knowing he needed to change things, Ferguson brought on Javier Hernandez with Anderson and three goals followed in the following 12 minutes. There is a growing suspicion that United wouldn't need to come from behind all the time if the boss got his team selections right in the first place.

With the benefit of hindsight it is easy to say who is on form and who isn't. On Saturday, Ashley Young looked well off the pace and Paul Scholes seemed like a player with too many miles on the clock. But that is easy to say afterward.

Ahead of time, it's understandable that the man who picks the team has a squad of players to keep happy and must pick each side based on other factors. Nonetheless, motivation would have to be a crucial element to consider. Surely someone had to notice that Anderson had the bit between his teeth this week and deserved to start.

Danny Welbeck didn't have his best game but rose decisively to the corner that brought the equalizer. Jonny Evans was able to bundle the ball home and the usual comeback story started to come together. The first two goals came from corners -- it's nice to know United can still do the basics well. Except defend of course. Meanwhile Hernandez showed that all he needs to score goals is a bit of service.

No wonder Sir Alex Ferguson chews gum. "We have to be concerned at the number of times we are giving teams leads," said the manager. The concern for the fans is the number of times United start matches with the wrong players. Ultimately, they are top of the league, but still frustrate.

Follow Mark on Twitter at @markjpayne

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