How QPR’s full-backs are revelling in Redknapp’s formation switch

Danny Simpson

Danny Simpson - Credit: EMPICS Sport

QPR’s recent system change is undoubtedly bringing the best out of Harry Redknapp’s attacking players, but against Middlesbrough it was the full-backs who reaped the greatest benefit.

Ahead of the Teesiders’ visit to Loftus Road, QPR’s season had been characterised by a succession of narrow, patient 1-0 wins achieved with clinical regularity. In attack, however, Redknapp’s side were labouring – but that all changed on Saturday.

Redknapp’s switch from 4-4-2 to a system more akin to 4-2-3-1 is well-documented and looks an astute move, certainly one which the manager had in his mind when recruiting Niko Kranjcar, Tom Carroll and Benoit Assou-Ekotto in the closing hours of the transfer window.

Much of the focus has fallen on the first two players, understandably, given Kranjcar’s quality and experience, and the raw potential exhibited by Carroll while playing at Tottenham.

But while Kranjcar’s signing was labelled a coup and the Croatian enjoyed a fine full debut against Tony Mowbray’s team, it is the additions of Assou-Ekotto, a Spurs regular under Redknapp and a player of international repute, as well as Danny Simpson, which are paying early dividends.

A glance at the team-sheet ahead of kick-off on Saturday might have drawn consternation among Rangers fans, as Redknapp had effectively packed his side with five central midfielders.

As well as Barton, Carroll and Alejandro Faurlin as his central three, Redknapp had as his ‘wide’ men Gary O’Neil and Kranjcar, both players who like to cut inside and play through central areas.

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The worry would have been a serious lack of width, particularly with one winger, Matt Phillips, injured and another, Junior Hoilett, on the bench.

However, QPR circum-navigated that potential problem by handing attacking licence to the full-backs - and it worked perfectly.

Assou-Ekotto, having played alongside Kranjcar at Spurs, immediately looked at ease behind his Croatian team-mate, overlapping on occasion without ever neglecting his defensive duties.

On the right, Simpson enjoyed arguably an even better afternoon, with his ceaseless running causing Middlesbrough endless problems and restricting their own threat from wide positions.

Indeed it was Simpson’s powerful early charge down the right and dangerous low cross – already a trademark element of his game - which led to Joey Barton’s early goal. Both players spent all afternoon penning the Boro’ defence inside their half.

“We’ve got Niko coming inside on his right foot, and Gaz making runs and getting into holes, so it’s easier for me and Benoit to get down the sides and overlap,” said Simpson.

“It gives their full-backs a problem and the wide men a problem because they have to chase and come back with us.

“If they don’t, we’ll get in. With the players we have got it makes it easier for me to overlap.”

The success of QPR’s full-backs – a problem position for the side in recent seasons, with the likes of Armand Traore strong in attack but defensively inconsistent - contributed heavily to Rangers’ best display of the season by a distance.

Redknapp may well feel that he has found the perfect blend on his flanks: full-backs who carry an attacking threat, playing behind wide men who are equally capable of dropping back into defence.

That, in combination with players such as Barton and Faurlin who are capable of closing down space on the flanks should the wingers and full-backs be caught upfield.

It is, in fact, increasingly difficult to spot the weakness in Redknapp’s side, who have now kept a club record-equalling seven consecutive clean sheets as they stayed three points clear at the top.

And with Redknapp able to field a settled side – a luxury few QPR managers have had in recent years – there is every reason to conclude that Rangers’ unbeaten run is set to continue.

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