It’s been an incredibly busy summer for QPR. 10 major signings have come in, whilst 6 regulars from last season have left the club. Going back further, since Neil Warnock was sacked and Mark Hughes came in, a mammoth 15 major players have been added to the squad, and to the wage bill. Just how strong is the current squad, and where is the club likely to finish?
This was a weak area for the side last season. Paddy Kenny is a solid Championship goalkeeper, but an improvement in this area was needed. Robert Green came in after his contract with West Ham expired, but he promptly let in a soft goal on his debut. You have to ask yourself why no Premier League team was willing to sign Green after West Ham’s relegation. When the chance arose to sign Júlio César, it’s not one an ambitious side could turn down, just because they had already signed Green. Júlio César won the Champions League with Inter Milan in 2010, and working under José Mourinho’s famed goalkeeping coach, Silvino Louro, he was generally regarded as one of the world’s very best goalkeepers. Only 2 years later, Inter were happy to let him go after a couple of disappointing (and injury prone) seasons since Mourinho (and Louro) departed the club. He has 64 caps for Brazil, and was a no brainer signing, even on his wages.
At 32, he has several years left in him, and has already said that he is targeting Champions League football and a league title with QPR. Robert Green is now the number 2, and it remains to be seen if he will be satisfied with appearances in the domestic cup competitions when it appeared he was signed to be first choice. Hughes said that “the opportunity to sign him (Júlio César) only arose in the last couple of days [of the window] and when you get a chance to sign a player of that quality, you have to pursue it to its conclusion. I will sit down with Rob and talk him through it. What we’re trying to do here is improve the quality of the group and pose challenges to everyone.”
This is a massive worry for Mark Hughes, that much is obvious. He tried, and failed, to sign Christopher Samba and Alex last January, despite agreeing a fee for the latter. This summer, he failed in attempts to sign Michael Dawson and, if reports are true, to loan Ricardo Carvalho from Real Madrid. If you look back at Hughes’ defensive targets when he was Manchester City manager, his number one choice was John Terry. It’s clear that Hughes always wants a big character in central defence – an organiser, a leader and someone to dominate aerially.
Hughes said, “That was the plan at the start of the window and [central defence] is the one area that we haven’t been able to address.” He got Ryan Nelsen and Stephanie M’Bia instead. Nelsen was captain at Blackburn Rovers under Hughes, but he is now 34 and hasn’t played regularly for 18 months. You get the distinct impression that Nelsen’s off-field personality and experience were more of an attraction that his actual defensive capabilities. M’Bia captained Marseille at times, and is an athletic, physical defensive midfielder, who can cover in central defence. He has made it clear in the past that he sees himself as a box-to-box midfielder, but it may be that Hughes uses M’Bia at centre back.
Beyond that, you are left with Clint Hill and Anton Ferdinand, neither of whom are top half players (and arguably not even Premier League standard players), and Nedum Onuoha. Onuoha is very quick, very athletic, and could have excelled alongside an organiser. Positionally, he is still learning and has spent most of his career thus far (with City and Sunderland) playing at right back. His one run of games in central defence came with Hughes as his manager at City.
Fullback is another potentially dodgy area. Jose Bosingwa and Fabio have come in, and both are excellent going forward, and quick, determined fullbacks, but neither is great at covering their central defenders, and can be targeted in the air with diagonal balls. Luke Young is a steady performer, but he has not made QPR’s 25 man Premier League squad, and is expected to be loaned out to a Championship side. There’s also Armand Traoré, who came on in the Capital One Cup win over Walsall, and will challenge Fabio for the left back spot, and could possibly do a job on the left hand side of midfield.
This is undoubtedly the strongest area of QPR’s squad. In wide positions, Park Ji-Sung and Junior Hoilett both joined this summer. Park brings his experience, defensive nous and versatility to the squad, whilst also being the current captain of the side. At one stage, he was one of the best big-game players in European football, and although he is older now, and less capable of marathon shifts, he gives QPR a sense of calm which was lacking under previous captain, Joey Barton. Hoilett arrived after his Blackburn contract expired (though a tribunal will set compensation payable to Blackburn) and he brings a great directness, skill in 1v1 situations, and a real threat from long range.
Samba Diakité has agreed a four-year deal with the Loftus Road club having initially joined on loan last season. The fee is reported to be in the region of £3.5m. He had some very good games for the club last season, especially when scoring the winning goal in an all-action display against Arsenal. However, he was sent off on his debut, and it will be very important for him to tackle intelligently.
Mark Hughes told the club’s website: “Samba was a real find for us in January, so we’re delighted he’s joined us permanently. He’s a very accomplished footballer and he’s made to measure for the Premier League. He’s got good pace, strength and ability on the ball and he’s going to be a great asset for us going forward. There’s still so much more to come from him. He’s only been exposed to the Premier League for a handful of games, so I’m sure he’s raring to go and get back into the action again.”
However, the major midfield signing of the summer was Esteban Granero, a very surprising addition from Real Madrid. And it’s not as if he never played for them. He played in roughly half of last season’s La Liga games, as well as against both Barcelona and Bayern Munich. His excellent ball retention in deep positions will be of huge benefit to a QPR side who were desperately lacking in that area after Alejandro Faurlín’s knee injury last January. With the Argentine back to full fitness, QPR’s central midfield options look very strong. It’s quite possible that Faurlín and Granero could be used together in a 2 man central midfield too. Faurlín had some of the best tackling stats in the division last season and also brings a competitive edge to the side. This is something that might take Granero a little time to develop. Last season’s regulars Adel Taarabt and Jamie Mackie will also be keen to keep their places in the starting midfield. Mackie was one of the best performers last season, and Taarabt has been given the iconic number 10 jersey as a show of faith after he signed a new 3 year contract. It remains to be seen if he will feature wide this season, or will play predominantly off a single striker.
You can find analysis of Granero here:
QPR have 3 senior strikers on the books in Bobby Zamora, Djibril Cissé and Andy Johnson. If you consider that a single striker formation will be used regularly, and the ability of Mackie, Taarabt or Hoilett to play off that lone striker, this appears to be a sufficiently stocked position. Andy Johnson will bring a workrate that the other two don’t offer, and his diligent channel running makes him an attractive option in away games, as well as making him a handful on the tight Loftus Road pitch. Cissé gives pure pace, and some selfish striking instinct. He scored 6 league goals in 8 appearances after his move last season, and if he can cut out the red cards, he may end up as top goalscorer. Zamora is an excellent “hold-up” target man, and is a perfect foil to a 5 man midfield, especially one featuring runners like Park and Hoilett. The issue in this area is that none of these front men provide particularly reliable goal returns.
Finances and wages:
You can find a very in-depth article on QPR’s financial situation here, by the outstanding Swiss Ramble. This is a worrying area for the club as big wages have been offered to a number of older players, and the commercial income is not at all strong, whilst Loftus Road holds only 18360 and is not always sold out.
This must still be a worry. New signing Park Ji-Sung is currently captain, and that is a risky route to follow. Barton was appointed captain shortly after signing last season, as was Roger Johnson at Wolves. Neither club had good seasons and both appeared lacking in on (and off) field guidance, and both sacked managers during the course of last season.
Where will QPR finish?
QPR chief executive Philip Beard revealed the club are not prepared to accept another relegation scrap following their summer transfer spree. My personal prediction is a finish around 12’th, which would represent a solid season and something to build on.
WHERE DO YOU SEE QPR FINISHING THIS SEASON?
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