The QPR Monday Verdict: Rangers manager is faced with a midfield conundrum
Lack of goals from Rangers’ middle men is a problem Neil Warnock must solve in January
Neil Warnock has stated that signing a midfielder will be one of his priorities in January and it is difficult to escape the conclusion that such a player will come as a replacement for Adel Taarabt.
Taarabt has seemingly sealed his own fate at Loftus Road with a series of indifferent displays on the pitch and ill-discipline off it that have surely paved the way for his exit when the transfer window reopens.
There may yet be scope for his return to the first team but every game that passes with the Moroccan on the bench sees him edge another inch out of the exit door. The truth is that his attitude has rarely been one of a player ready to show the commitment and desire to earn his place in the side, it has been on of an individual desperate to secure a transfer.
But since Tony Fernandes’ takeover this season was never going to be about Taarabt, and the upside for his manager is that in Taarabt’s absence, his team-mates have produced displays of expansive football, playing within in a new, more attacking 4-4-2 system that is bringing the best out of strikers Jay Bothroyd and Heidar Helguson.
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The negative is that Warnock now presides over a midfield which though defensively strong and attackingly creative, does not carry a goal-scoring threat to match the strikers.
Shaun Wright-Phillips is a potent weapon both on the wings and through the middle, in many ways taking on the mantle from Taarabt, but has faded after his flying start.
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Handed a ‘free’ role by Warnock, Wright-Phillips has been unlucky not to break his duck, but history says that throughout his fluctuating career the former Manchester City and Chelsea man has never been a regular on the score-sheet, and is unlikely to be so for Rangers.
Jamie Mackie has also found form, particularly in the last two games against Stoke and Norwich. It was his shot which cannoned back off the post allowing Luke Young to net QPR’s equaliser at Carrow Road. But though a reliable and hard-working figure, Mackie is similarly unlikely to get anywhere near double figures this campaign.
Alejandro Faurlin’s performances from deep have drawn many plaudits already, but his is a role which allows few forays forward, while the same can be said for skipper Joey Barton, who has looked far more at ease in his deeper role of recent weeks.
Indeed, QPR’s only goals from the middle so far this season came in that 3-0 win against Wolves at Molineux in September. Since then, Helguson has scored five, Bothroyd two, and right-back Young two.
Come January, Warnock will certainly have greater concerns than his midfield, namely plugging the gaps in a defence which in the last few weeks has been beset by injuries and become alarmingly porous, conceding 10 goals in the last four games. One, if not two versatile defenders will be added to bring much needed strength in depth.
The lack of a goalscorer from the middle of the park will not make of break QPR’s season, but it could yet be a deficiency which hurts them.
There is an argument to suggest that as long as the likes of Wright-Phillips, Mackie and Barton continue to lay on chances for the strikers, the dearth of goals from further back matters little.
But Bothroyd and Helguson will almost certainly go through periods without a goal, and they are the moments when the presence of a midfielder capable of taking over that responsibility becomes invaluable.
Warnock does have Akos Buzsaky to call on, but has been reluctant to play the Hungary international, whose 12 minutes at Norwich were his first since the defeat at Wigan in September.
DJ Campbell’s return from injury this month will bring an additional option, the former Blackpool man capable of playing up front and in the hole behind the front two if required.
That makes Warnock’s recent assertion that, as well as a midfielder, he is in the hunt for not one but two strikers somewhat hard to fathom. In Bothroyd, Helguson and Campbell the manager would need only one more addition to his front line to be considered rich with options in that department.
Rather, a goal-scoring midfielder is one of the missing pieces in Warnock’s puzzle. Many will still harbour hopes that Taarabt is the man to solve it, but he is clearly craving his big move and is unsuited to a formation which is no longer constructed around him.
It is a problem which, when Fernandes opens his chequebook again in January, will be high on his manager’s list to solve.
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