How loan Ranger Diakite is the key to QPR’s tactical switch

After a nervy start, Rangers’ Mali international is quickly becoming an integral player in the battle to stay in the Premier League

Samba Diakite has made an erratic start to his QPR career, but the evidence of his recent performances suggests he could become a central figure in Rangers’ fight to avoid the drop.

When defensive midfielder Diakite completed his loan move from Nancy in January, Mark Hughes confidently predicted he had pulled off something of a coup; “There has been a lot of interest from the top clubs in France so we have done really well to get him,” said the Rangers boss.

“He’s a good age, has got strength, power, can carry the ball and score goals from midfield. He will give us more physical presence and athleticism in the middle of the park so he’s a good addition.”

Hughes admitted last week that he had been aware of the tall, leggy Diakite for a year, and identified the 23-year-old Mali international as the ideal player to add steel to the heart of QPR’s midfield.

It is an area which has been a problem all season, one exacerbated by Alejandro Faurlin’s season-ending knee injury and the relatively poor form of Joey Barton. Rangers’ remaining central midfielders are effective in attack but lack the physical presence to shield the defence.

The industrious Shaun Derry provided a partial solution, but Rangers still were missing a ‘destroyer’ in the middle of the park. The prime example of the consequences came when Michael Carrick strolled through midfield to score Manchester United’s second at Loftus Road in December.

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In Diakite, however, Hughes may just have found the individual to solve the problem - and his improving displays have enabled the manager to make an important tactical switch.

Diakite allows Hughes to play what is effectively a three-man central midfield, supporting a three-man attack. As the better passer of the ball, Barton is suited to playing at the head of that trio, with Diakite and Derry doubling up in a deeper role offering greater protection to the defence.

Against Arsenal last weekend the system worked perfectly. Diakite and Derry made for a combative midfield engine, stifling Tomas Rosicky and Mikel Arteta, cutting off the Gunners’ supply line.

At 23 years of age, Diakite is, much like his team, a player of raw potential, and by no means the finished article, a fact all to evident when his debut against Fulham lasted all of 33 minutes, cut short by a naive challenge on Bryan Ruiz and was sent off for his second bookable offence.

His disciplinary record since August is also alarming: a remarkable tally 12 yellow cards and one red in 25 appearances playing for Mali, Nancy and QPR effectively highlight his major flaw: composed on the ball but occasionally reckless off it and prone to being caught out of position.

But those are all traits which with work can be eradicated from his game, and since his debut sending off, Diakite has steadily settled. More importantly, his presence has helped Hughes to settle on his strongest first-choice starting XI and the formation in which to play them.

That central three are pivotal, providing the right balance of solidity and creativity. Playing in a 4-4-2 system, QPR were too often swamped in the middle but were also hamstrung by a lack of width.

The switch to 4-2-3-1 affords them freedom and natural threat from the wings. That formation is beginning to bring the best out of Adel Taarabt, who has licence to roam in from the left, with Jamie Mackie darting up and down the right, supporting Bobby Zamora.

The returning Heidar Helguson and DJ Campbell will provide Hughes with further options.

Perversely, Hughes has actually been helped by Djibril Cisse’s four-match ban, which, allied to the absences of Helguson and Campbell, forced him to switch from his favoured two up front to one.

It is a set up well-suited to playing away from home, where Zamora’s ability to hold the ball up, relieve pressure and bring his colleagues into play will be crucial in QPR’s visits to Old Trafford, the Hawthorns, Stamford Bridge and the Etihad Stadium. Similarly, if Taraabt can continue his renaissance in attack, there is little to suggest Hughes should change his formation at Loftus Road.

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