The Monday Verdict: The unlikely problem which is dogging QPR’s season
Joey Barton, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Adel Taarabt - but Rangers still can’t score goals
Several times in recent weeks Neil Warnock has claimed that the reason for QPR’s troubles in front of goal were due to their lack of a prolific striker to take the chances created.
But after watching Rangers limp to a tepid stalemate with struggling Blackburn Rovers on Saturday afternoon, the QPR manager’s assessment of his side may well have been altered.
Having not yet scored this season, Jay Bothroyd has taken his fair share of criticism, and Warnock acted to solve the perceived problem by replacing the one-cap England man with Heidar Helguson. After 16 minutes, the move appeared to have paid dividends, yet after Helguson’s opener, the chances dried up as Rangers ran out of ideas as Rovers dug in.
When Warnock signed Joey Barton and Shaun Wright-Phillips to play alongside Adel Taarabt in his side’s midfield, he could not have predicted that his side would struggle for creativity.
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And yet, save for the draw with Newcastle and win at Wolves that has been exactly the case. First against Aston Villa and again against Steve Kean’s struggling side on Saturday, Rangers’ midfield men have struggled to consistently create chances for their lone striker.
Barton in particular is yet to match his prolific Twittering off the pitch with the same level of performances in matches; the former Newcastle has struggled to impact on the tempo of games, while his delivery from corners and free-kicks has been poor.
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His assertion after Saturday’s match that Rangers ‘have been playing some really good stuff’ was at odds with the evidence presented to 16,487 frustrated fans inside Loftus Road.
Similarly, Wright-Phillips has performed only intermittently since he tore into Newcastle on his debut. Against Blackburn, he presented glimpses of the form that he hopes could produce an England recall, but his delivery from the wings remains frustratingly unpredictable.
Warnock’s biggest problem though, and one that he is to solve, is the form of Taarabt, whose petulant walk-out against Fulham two weeks ago resulted in him being relegated to the bench.
When he was introduced inside the final half-hour, Taarabt’s sole meaningful contribution was a scuffed shot wide from the edge of the area when a more composed effort may well have brought the home side a winning goal.
A midfield minus Taarabt did though provide a glimpse of a future which may sooner rather than later become a reality: life without Taarabt.
He may not have got his summer move to PSG, but Taarabt still appears a player who wants to leave west London, while Warnock cannot continue to build his formation around one man who was outstanding in the Championship but looks lost in the Premier League.
Taarabt and QPR is increasingly looking like a relationship on its last legs, and the player’s performances so far this season suggest that Warnock’s best option may be to cut his losses and sell the Moroccan, and revert to two strikers ahead of a four-man midfield.
That would certainly be a plausible option if, as both Warnock and Tony Fernandes suggested on Saturday, another batch of new signings are made during the January transfer window.
Another striker has been outlined as the priority, but, with Bothroyd, Helguson, DJ Campbell and Jamie Mackie at Warnock’s disposal up front, the manager would do well to focus on finding an alternative to Taarabt; a figure who can play off either one or two strikers and across the midfield - Lille’s Belgian international Eden Hazard may be one such option.
Wholesale changes to a side which is in its infancy and yet to gel is not the answer to QPR’s problems, particularly when the Premier League’s 25-man squad rules come into play once again in January - ‘four or five’ new signings would simply equate to another batch of highly-paid players shifted to the sidelines, or forced out on loan while staying on the wage-bill.
Instead, Warnock must make tweaks to a team which, although still lacking in strength in depth, is packed with plenty of talent. To that end, solving his QPR’s actual lack of attacking creativity, rather than a perceived lack of firepower, must be Warnock’s number one option.
Follow Ian Cooper on Twitter @QPRTimes