The QPR Verdict: Cisse’s struggles threaten to derail Rangers’ steady progress

Five games into the new season and Mark Hughes is yet to get the best from the French striker

QPR continue to make tentative progress this season but their recent league outings have highlighted a problem in attack which Mark Hughes appears no closer to solving.

Hughes has yet to get the best out of Djibril Cisse this season, and as the Frenchman was restricted to his fourth successive appearance as a late substitute against Tottenham, Hughes’s comments on the former Liverpool and Sunderland man were revealing.

“He started the first two games, then I changed things around with different formations for different challenges we faced playing away from home,” said Hughes.

“We know what Djibril gives us. He is an outstanding finisher and we have to make sure that we are strong and compact enough, and have the quality about us to release him at the right times.

“We haven’t had the solidity to do that as yet, but Djib’s a great impact sub to come on.”

Cisse has become the most high-profile victim of Hughes’s early-season tinkering, as the manager seeks to find his most effective formation after a summer of upheaval.

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The 31-year-old is an unpredictable character, capable of moments of brilliance, underlined by his magnificent run of form last season which provided the bedrock to Premier League survival.

But it is that unpredictability – Cisse’s tendency to drift in and out of games – which has made Hughes reluctant to play him in a 4-4-2 system which at times leaves Rangers vulnerable on the counter-attack and in need of strikers who are capable of supporting an under-pressure defence.

In the recent games against Manchester City and Chelsea, in which Hughes needed to strike the right balance between attacking potency and defensive resilience, he opted for Andy Johnson to partner Bobby Zamora, praising Johnson’s energy as QPR performed credibly in both matches.

Had Johnson remained fit, it is likely that he and Zamora would have continued that partnership, particularly at Loftus Road where the need is for Hughes’s side to find the net with regularity.

However, the season-ending injury which Johnson suffered against Chelsea leaves only Cisse and Zamora able to occupy the centre-forward positions. Against Tottenham on Sunday, Hughes placed his faith in Zamora as the lone striker in a familiar 4-2-3-1 line-up.

Zamora is ideally suited to such a role, and he once again underlined his worth to the side with his fourth goal of the season. He was at the heart of easily the best football QPR have played under the Welshman’s guidance, scoring clinically in the first half and giving Spurs’ centre-backs William Gallas and Jan Vertonghen a torrid opening 45 minutes in the pouring rain.

But when Hughes took Zamora off in the 72nd minute, bringing on Cisse but sticking with the same formation, the Frenchman who is yet to score in the league this season again proved that he is ineffective playing as the lone striker.

Hughes was keen to abandon last season’s 4-2-3-1 formation for a more offensive 4-4-2, but Johnson was central to those plans and Hughes appears completely unwilling to let his two other strikers loose in tandem. The only option would be to stick with Zamora up front, and continue with Cisse’s new role as an ‘impact sub’.

But that could yet prove a risky move. Zamora is the only player to score in the league for Rangers this season – two from open play, and one penalty rebound. If Hughes is to persevere with 4-2-3-1 QPR’s supporting midfielders must also start scoring with regularity.

QPR’s next five league matches see them entertain West Ham, Everton and Reading – all games from which, if Rangers have serious ambitions this season – they should target maximum points.

Trips to an impressive West Bromwich Albion side and, more significantly, Arsenal, are the ideal occasions on which Zamora can lead the line when QPR’s priority will be to avoid defeat.

But certainly at home, Hughes needs to find a way to get the best from Cisse, or QPR’s most dangerous attacking weapon will be lost amid a series of appearances from the bench.

Follow me on Twitter @QPRTimes.