Another weekend, another cup final for QPR as their race for survival tour heads to Villa Park for a good old fashioned ‘six-pointer’. They face Aston Villa, who themselves are deep in the relegation doo-doo, in a game that neither team can really afford to lose. Last weekend both teams picked up three points and they’ll both be in confident mood come three o’clock on Saturday.
For Rangers, their first back-to-back Premier League wins since Britpop was cool has breathed actual life into a relegation battle most had thought was already lost. The victory at Southampton a fortnight ago and last weekend’s 3-1 defeat of Sunderland have seen Harry Redknapp’s men close to within four points of safety – and drag both the Saints and Sunderland back into the battle at the bottom. Now they can close in on Aston Villa if they can get their first league win at Villa Park since 1992.
Most encouraging for Rangers fans, is not only the consecutive victories but that Redknapp seems to have finally found a way to get his team winning football matches. Not many would have thought it would be at the expense of Adel Taarabt, but it now looks like his best eleven may not include QPR’s maverick Moroccan.
It’s an unfortunate situation for Taarabt, so often QPR’s saviour over the last two campaigns, but a player the team had become all too reliant on. He might have revelled in being the star of the show but far too often he lacks consistency from game-to-game, and when he’s not in the mood to do the dirtier work Rangers suffer.
Adel’s absence also means Redknapp gets to pair his chosen two up top, which he’s gone on record saying he believes will be the key in the club staying in this league. So far, so good: having a target man and Loïc Rémy as the pacier partner playing off the back of the last line of defence has been a great success.
Bobby Zamora is the preferred partner for Rémy, but as he showed at St Mary’s Jay Bothroyd is a willing replacement for Bobby and his dodgy hip. Add that frontline to the two-able-wingers system Harry’s been playing in the last two games and suddenly Rangers have looked much more potent in front of goal – and just at the right time.
Whether Redknapp continues with two up top in a game that QPR daren’t lose presents an interesting selection choice for the R’s gaffer. The impression he has given is that pairing Rémy and Zamora up together is his master-plan, so I do expect him to stick with it at Villa Park.
What QPR must do however, is keep the score at 0-0 for as long as possible. The onus will be on the home side to take the game to Rangers, but if the R’s can keep score-line goalless and wait for the fans to get restless then Villa’s young team are vulnerable.
Villa also have a bad record of conceding goals in the later stages of games, so the gameplan should be to play a defensive minded game early on, and then go for broke in the later stages. Taking advantage at set-pieces, where Villa have look weak this season, should be key as QPR have Chris Samba as a major aerial threat.
Rangers’ recent run will have the teams around them worried, but this game has a make or break feel to it. Win and the gap to safety closes to just one point, lose and Villa go seven clear – it’s a massive difference at this time of the season. A draw wouldn’t be the end of the world, and would keep both teams’ momentum going, but I feel there will be a winner in this one and I hope it’s the men in blue and white hoops.