The QPR Monday Verdict: Why caution is key in the January transfer window
Defeat to Manchester United highlighted a problem that cannot be solved simply by signing new players
QPR’s defeat to Manchester United merely heightened the calls for Neil Warnock to bolster his squad in January, but Rangers’ approach to the upcoming transfer window must be a cautious one.
As impressive as the champions were in their 2-0 win, their cause was undoubtedly helped by a disjointed, error-strewn display from the home side.
United’s goals were both results of QPR mistakes, with Matt Connolly’s poor clearance leading to Wayne Rooney’s first-minute opener, and Joey Barton’s mis-placed pass allowing Michael Carrick to amble forward unchallenged and hit a shot which Radek Cerny could only help into the net.
However, those errors were part of a wider problem for QPR, who were expected to subject Sir Alex Ferguson’s team to the same level of performance which bullied Chelsea into submission and had Manchester City on the rack earlier in the season.
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Instead, they simply rolled over.
There was simply no intensity to QPR’s game, this was the performance of a side which did not believe it had a right to play on the same pitch as the likes of Rooney, Nani, Danny Welbeck and all United’s other stars.
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As Rangers were carved y the visitors almost at will, memories returned of the 6-0 drubbing at Fulham in October. There, as on Sunday, QPR were beaten by a side exuding greater hunger, and once they conceded the early goal, they simply surrendered.
It is a worrying aspect of their season which has cropped up before; an expectancy to be beaten by the so-called ‘bigger teams’. On several occasions Warnock has stated his team will occasionally get ‘turned over’ this season. Such sentiment may be intended to keep a sense of perspective, but it also serves to cement the idea that his side are unable to compete with the teams around them.
It is a mentality of self-doubt, and one which against United was most evident in the displays of two of Warnock’s flagship summer signings: Barton and Shaun Wright-Phillips.
Warnock has insisted that both players have ‘something to prove’, eager to kick-start their careers after various setbacks. But if Barton and Wright-Phillips are driven by the desire to answer those who doubt them, it has not been reflected in their recent performances on the pitch.
Where, Rs fans must be wondering, is the Joey Barton who looked ready to die for the cause of the Newcastle United shirt, the Joey Barton who still believes he merits a place in the England side and cannot fathom why Fabio Capello does not pick him over the likes of Scott Parker and Jack Wilshere?
In a game where tenacity on the ball, strength in the challenge and leadership among his teammates was crucial, Barton failed in all three aspects, reduced to chasing United’s shadows. The man made captain upon his arrival in west London is yet to live up to the role.
Wright-Phillips meanwhile, continues to play within himself. Once again he was again reluctant to run at United, too often passing rather than using his pace to put the defence on the back foot.
Overlooked for so long by both Chelsea and Manchester City, the 30-year-old has never fulfilled the potential hinted at in his younger years, and at QPR, the speedy winger is treading water.
Wednesday night’s home game against Martin O’Neill’s Sunderland suddenly has the look of the dreaded relegation six-pointer. Fail to get a positive result in that match, and Rangers head into the Christmas period teetering on the brink of the drop-zone, with the pressure on Warnock growing.
So all eyes are on January. But amid the clamour for Fernandes to act with his chequebook, it is pertinent to reflect on just who have been QPR’s best performers in the first half of the season.
The likes of Paddy Kenny, Alejandro Faurlin, Shaun Derry and Heidar Helguson all played in the side which won promotion last season and all were tipped to lose their place.
But each has defied those expectations to not only keep his place, but raise his game, driven by the pride of guiding his side into the promised land of the Premier League and so far overshadowing every one of the players signed during the summer.
While the likes of Barton, Wright-Phillips and Jay Bothroyd are yet to find their best form, QPR’s established players have helped to hold the team together with displays of grit and determination.
Derry was unfortunate in the extreme to lose his place to Barton when Warnock switched to a 4-4-2 set-up, but as QPR wilted in midfield on Sunday his hunger and energy were key ingredients that were sorely missed. Technically inferior he perhaps is, but Derry gives everything for the cause.
None of which is to say QPR should not dip into the transfer window next month – clearly, there must be a defensive addition and at least one midfielder. One or two astute additions could be all it takes to keep Rangers safely in mid-table and secure their Premier League survival.
But it does perhaps highlight the fact that the best sides are often those which are not chopped and changed every six months, but those given time to blossom, and grow together.
Signing four or five new players presents the risk of upsetting the balance of a side which is yet to find its feet - now is not the time for extensive rebuilding, it is the time for continuity.
It is the time for Barton to stand up and be counted as captain, to help his side re-discover the resolve which was so lacking against Manchester United, and which can get their suddenly wobbling season back on track.
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