Last updated at 12:00, Sunday 18th December 2011

Fergie back on the front foot


Mike Holden
Premier League - Sunday preview
2pts Both teams to score QPR v Man Utd at Evs (SkyBet)United are looking to boost morale and will take more risks in the coming weeks.1pt Under 1.5 goals Aston Villa v Liverpool at 12/5 (Stan James)Take away red cards and penalties and not much else happens when the Reds hit the road.

Who's ready for the next instalment of Sir Alex Ferguson's stick-or-twist goalscoring merry-go-round?

The Manchester United manager might not have control of the title race at the moment but he still retains an admirable level of control over how his players go about their business and circumstances suggest he will encourage his players to take a few more risks in the coming weeks, so let's take one ourselves by backing the even money on both teams to score when the Red Devils travel to QPR on Sunday.

When the season started in August, Fergie's directive to his players appeared to be simple: keep one step ahead of City. Whether real or imagined, it was a policy that reached ludicrous proportions when United continually raised the noisy neighbours in the opening weeks of the season as the two Manchester clubs went goal crazy.

Ferguson knew the danger of allowing City to have a taste of top dog status but when fearlessness eventually got the better of his team in the second half of the derby at Old Trafford, a change of approach was called for. Suddenly, it served no purpose to try and match City's incredible firepower stride for stride and United opted to take the tortoise approach in their pursuit of the hare.

Now the focus was on economy of effort while rebuilding the shattered confidence of a brittle defence and the next five league games produced a total of just six goals as the Red Devils claimed 13 points from a possible 15. It would have been a maximum 15 from five successive 1-0 wins but for a dubious penalty awarded to Newcastle.

However, circumstances have conspired again and Ferguson finds now himself out of the Champions League and without Nemanja Vidic or Darren Fletcher for an indefinite period, and the response was a return to goalscoring form against Wolves last weekend. It seems as though United are back on the front foot as they go in search of any morale boost they can find in the coming weeks.

Whether you buy into this theory or not, there's already enough evidence for believing that QPR will find the net at some point against a diluted United defence on Sunday. Prior to last weekend's 1-0 reverse at Liverpool, the R's had scored in each of their previous seven matches, a sequence that included successive games against Chelsea, Tottenham and City.

With a couple of old City boys among their ranks, namely Joey Barton and Shaun Wright-Phillips, not to mention the sibling rivalry of the Ferdinands, there will be no shortage of personal incentive in the home dressing room. All of which considered, we expect United to come out on top and we also expect goals but there's nothing too exciting about the prices on either outcome. Instead, the value is top be found on backing the net to bulge at both ends.

Meanwhile, we've pocketed a few quid from putting our faith in the ways of Alex McLeish already this season and we see further joy in continuing the theme with a bet on under 1.5 goals when his Aston Villa side 'entertain' Liverpool at Villa Park.

The former Birmingham boss has never been afraid to take an underdog stance on home soil and we should expect him to set the Villans up with a plan to contain their high-profile visitors, regardless of whether the Reds stand-off and try to invite the hosts on to them as most away sides would. The evidence to date suggests that Liverpool will be tough to break down and the remarkable thing about their away record is that all but one of their seven matches have been heavily influenced by red cards or penalties.

Two-goal wins at Arsenal and Everton were achieved in the last 20 minutes after the hosts had been reduced to ten men, the 1-0 defeat at Fulham a fortnight ago arrived in a similar manner only in reverse, while games at Stoke and West Brom hinged on dubious penalty decisions, one in favour of Kenny Dalglish's men and one against. Throw in a couple of red cards in the 4-0 hammering at White Hart Lane while the score was still only 1-0 and it leaves you wondering how much has really happened without the intervention of a referee.

Peter Walton is the man in charge at Villa Park on Sunday and it's reassuring to know that he hasn't issued a red card in the Premier League since giving Gervinho his marching orders in the Newcastle v Arsenal match on the opening day and not once has he pointed to the spot in eight matches. 

As such, we're struggling for reasons to believe that this fixture will break the mould of recent years. The under 1.5 goals bet has been landed in each of the past three seasons and odds of 12/5 with Stan James are more than adequate about McLeish and Dalglish stretching that sequence to four.

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