Last week Queen’s Park Rangers made an emotional return to the Premier League after fifteen years of wandering the Football League wilderness. On paper it looked like the ideal opening fixture; at home to a severely-depleted Bolton. QPR had an injury-free squad, a new-look frontline and the significant boon of having retained the services of captain and creative talisman Adel Taarabt. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, over the course of ninety minutes almost everything. After putting in a solid shift in the first half the team eventually capitulated in every area of the field. After such a harsh baptism of fire the pre-season party balloons have visibly deflated around Loftus Road but there is no reason yet for doom and gloom. Here are five things QPR fans should look out for on Saturday’s visit to Goodison Park:
Last Saturday’s score-line was somewhat misleading but equally it’s fair to suggest that if QPR make a habit of such performances we’ll surely be relegated. Players who played well last year seem to have undergone a football lobotomy over the summer. Alejandro Faurlin in particular – previously an indomitable pillar of reliability – fluffed his lines over and over again. Other squad members resorted to playing hit-and-hope long-ball football, unwilling to move around with the ball at their feet lest they get blamed for losing it. The centre-halves looked nervous. Perhaps it was the sense of occasion. Perhaps it was the long lay off. Either way, the players have to rediscover the steely resolve which saw them lift the trophy last year.
The responsibilities of a Premier League full back are many and varied. Bradley Orr and Clint Hill are both good players but clearly lack the range of abilities which the position demands. If Everton manage to outrun the full-backs like Bolton did then buying replacements for Orr and Hill must become a priority. And let’s not mention Kieron Dyer in conjunction with the right-back position. Let’s not mention Kieron Dyer in conjunction with anything.
Let’s not mention Kieron Dyer in conjunction with the right-back position. Let’s not mention Kieron Dyer in conjunction with anything.
Thin in the middle
With Adel Taarabt, Tommy Smith and DJ Campbell all playing attacking positions last week, it was left to Shaun Derry and Alejandro Faurlin to police the centre of the park all by themselves. This was something they were incapable of doing. By the 70th minute Bolton’s midfield were running at QPR’s fragile defense with horrifying ease. Unless Warnock compromises and brings on another “traditional” midfielder, QPR risk hemorrhaging goals like Blackpool did last year. And we all know how that panned out.
There are plenty of people who would love to see QPR’s captain Adel Taarabt knocked off his perch this season. Any footballer who openly discusses his ambition to play for Real Madrid seems destined to end up on the business end of a studs-up Nigel De Jong horror charge. There’s even a masochistic strain of QPR fans who resent Taarabt’s inability to track back and half-want to see him fail on the big stage.
Let’s put those thoughts out of our heads. Taarabt is a fantastic talent and QPR are lucky still to have him. All that has changed is that he is now afforded much less time on the ball compared to last year. In the Championship defenders would back away from Taarabt, giving him space fearful of getting nutmegged or falling on their arse like an elephant trying to squash a sexy, Moroccan gazelle. Last Saturday Bolton’s defenders closed him down with extreme prejudice. It’s time for Taarabt to rely on his first touch, not hog the ball and – perish the though – occasionally cross back into his own half.
At this point fans have nothing more to go on than Fernandes’ words, but as far as words go they’re very encouraging.
Was last week effectively a “pre season” game?
QPR this week is not the same as QPR last week. Bernie Ecclestone and Flavio Briatore have sold up and gone home, replaced by Twitter-loving, roly-poly Malaysian tycoon Tony Fernandes. At this point fans have nothing more to go on than Fernandes’ words, but as far as words go they’re very encouraging. A new youth academy. A greater respect for the fans. And perhaps most importantly (at this point in time) a £10m budget for Warnock to stalk the transfer market with.
In his wisdom Fernandes has decided also to bring exiled folk hero Amit Bhatia back into the fold. Bhatia – who remains very popular with the fans – quit the board a while ago. He was protesting the enormous ticket price hike, instigated by the former owners. Now, reinstated as vice chairman, it looks as though his principled stand might have paid off.
There is a chance these changes will have a positive effect on the players on Saturday. Shaun Derry has already Tweeted as much, saying the takeover has given everyone “a massive lift”. The knowledge that the club is now in a softer, more-caring pair of hands could translate into a stronger on-pitch performance.
Should Saturday’s fixture prove to be a repeat of last week’s it will be tempting to press the panic button. The truth is Warnock will need a little while longer to calibrate the team to suit the Premier League and now that he’s got money to spend and a compliant owner who’s “on-side” there’s no reason to believe he won’t be able to fix the problems that were so evident against Bolton.
However there is a flip-side to that particular coin - should the team continue to flounder there’s no longer a couple of bogeymen in the director’s box to soak up the blame.
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