The Season So Far
QPR’s campaign has been yet another that’s followed in their proud tradition of supreme mismanagement, overspending and managerial incompetence. Harry Redknapp’s grand plan to avoid relegation to the Championship was to spend loads of money on Rio Ferdinand, Steven Caulker, Jordon Mutch, Leroy Fer and Sandro, focusing on winning their home games while accepting that each of their 19 away games would end in defeat.
It was always obvious that Redknapp was phoning it in at Loftus Road, but his attitude until his departure at the start of February was shockingly apathetic. The Hoops lost every single league game away from home until Redknapp threw in the towel and only won five of their home games. If there were any positives to take from the first half of the season, they were the fact that QPR’s home wins came against relegation rivals, the fact that other teams were and are just as bad as they are, and the form of Charlie Austin.
Austin’s 17 goals currently make him the Premier League’s joint second top scorer, and without him QPR would have gone down months ago. Their next most prolific player is Fer, who has hit the back of the net four times. Even if they stay up, they will face a challenge to hang onto Austin – his skillset is so uneven that he will only get a move to a mid-table club, but he has proved himself as a top-division striker and won’t want to spend any more time than he has to fighting relegation.
In terms of staying up, QPR probably won’t do it, but their mission is far from impossible. Leicester and Burnley appear to be gone, while Sunderland and Hull are sinking fast. QPR’s run-in is pretty favourable and Ramsey seems to have found the settled and motivated core that Redknapp never could. Players like Joey Barton, Bobby Zamora and Austin have spoken of the togetherness in the camp and their belief that team spirit will see them scrape enough points to survive.
‘onest ‘arry started the season experimenting with a 3-5-2 after Glenn Hoddle persuaded him of the formation’s merits, never realising that a back three containing two of Ferdinand, Richard Dunne and Clint Hill (combined age of 104 in August 2014) would be disastrously slow and easily exposed.
Horrific 4-0 defeats at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United followed and the 3-5-2 was soon abandoned, but QPR’s defending never improved. They have kept only five clean sheets all season and despite the switch to a back four and Ferdinand and Dunne being phased out by new manager Chris Ramsey, things look no better at the back.
They are very aggressive without the ball, ranking highly in the tables for tackles per game, interceptions per game and fouls per game, but this aggression isn’t really channelled or organised. Without the ball QPR are a total mess, prone to panic, mishap and disaster. There is no cohesion to their boxy 4-4-2 and it’s extremely easy to make chances against them.
Their attack is increasingly direct and their main method of transitioning from (frantic) defence to (hurried) attack is smashing long balls at Bobby Zamora’s chest. No team averages more long balls per game, and only Crystal Palace play fewer short passes. Their focus on playing long passes means they have a low pass completion rate – their average of 71.8% pass success is the third lowest in the league – so Chelsea can expect to dominate possession easily.
When they’re not pumping it long to the big man up top, they’re relying on their wingers to get crosses into the box for Zamora and Austin. Matt Phillips has become their main threat from wide areas, and César Azpilicueta and Nemanja Matić will have their hands full shutting Phillips down.
QPR’s biggest strength is their direct attack. They reliably produce lots of shots on goal: their average of 14.3 per game is the 5th highest total in the league. However, the accuracy of their shooting is usually pretty poor – they only hit the target four times per game. Basically, Austin gets a couple of shots on target while everyone else blasts the ball into Row Z repeatedly. If Chelsea stop Austin shooting, they will stop Thibaut Courtois having to make saves.
Another strength is attacking set pieces: 10 of QPR’s 38 goals this season have been from set plays, with Austin’s headed goal at the Hawthorns last weekend a great example of their proficiency in this area. As a corner came in from the right, Niko Kranjčar darted from the far post to the near, then flicked the ball towards the far post, where the unmarked Austin was arriving in the space Kranjčar had vacated. QPR have been doing similar things all season and Chelsea will have to be switched on whenever the ball goes out of play.
While their recent form has been pretty atrocious, their 4-1 win against West Brom felt like a turning point and we are entering the part of the season where sides at the bottom of the table start to play above themselves in order to get out of trouble. They will probably be even more motivated that Chelsea for this game and their raw desire will be an asset.
QPR’s biggest and most obvious weakness is that they can’t defend to save their lives. There is no structure to their team without the ball that prevents teams playing through them time and time again and their defenders are slow-witted as well as physically sluggish. No team allows more efforts on their goal than QPR’s average of 16 per game. Steven Caulker, in particular, has absolutely no idea what’s going on around him – it’s no surprise he’s about to be relegated for the second successive year.
Another weakness, and one that arises due to their lack of a structure and their panicked defending, is their discipline: they have accrued 66 yellows and 2 reds so far this season, giving them the third worst record in the Premier League. 57 of those yellows have been awarded for fouls, and Eden Hazard can expect to get lumps kicked out of him – even more than usual.
It’s also worth mentioning that they played midweek and so their energy reserves will be low in comparison to Chelsea’s. It wouldn’t be too surprising to see Chelsea win this game late on.
The truth is this section alone could run to 10,000 words. QPR are rubbish at pretty much everything.
Chris Ramsey knows that his best hope of getting QPR to safety is relying on a settled unit, and he’s doing his best to pick the same team in every game. This isn’t his strongest team: left-back Yun Suk-Young keeps getting injured, so Clint Hill will play against Willian in a mismatch so awful that José Mourinho might even tell Willian to take it easy; Eduardo Vargas is also injured, so Niko Kranjčar should start wide left and fail to track Branislav Ivanović’s forward runs.
As for Chelsea, it will probably be the same team as usual with Loïc Rémy playing instead of the injured Diego Costa.
Chelsea to win 2-0 without breaking a sweat. QPR to have a man sent off.