The QPR Verdict: The questions facing Hughes after Swansea drubbing
What a difference a day makes. In his first press conference of the season at Harlington on Friday, Mark Hughes was in buoyant, even bullish mood over QPR’s prospects this season.
“We’ve really increased the quality and Premier League experience of the side,” he said. “We’re delighted at where we are. We planned for every single one of these signings, every single one was done with thought, and an understanding of what these players will bring to us.
“We’ve set ourselves targets in terms of what we want to achieve, I think it’s important that we improve on where we finished last year, it was too close for everybody involved with QPR.
“We don’t anticipate that that’s going to be the case this year. We’re confident that with the quality we’ve brought in we won’t be in that situation again.”
Hughes may well be proved right, and one weekend into the new season is, of course, far too early to suggest that Rangers will be caught in a repeat of last season’s desperate survival struggle.
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But just over 24 hours after those assertions, after he watched a rampant Swansea City side run in goals for fun at Loftus Road, the QPR manager was adopting an entirely different stance.
“We’re under no false pretences that this is going to be a really difficult league this year. We have to pick ourselves up, it’s not what we envisaged today was going to be.
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“Unfortunately on too many occasions our decision-making was poor, our passing accuracy was poor and as consequence we weren’t able to build any type of team performance today.”
Perhaps the most worrying aspect of Saturday’s humiliating 5-0 defeat at the hands of Michael Laudrup’s vibrant side was that Hughes had absolutely not see the result coming. This season, he assured, will be different. QPR had made seven signings – eight by late on Friday, when Chelsea’s Champions League winning right-back Jose Bosingwa joined on another free transfer.
So to see the team he fielded against the Swans, which included four of his much-vaunted summer signings, so riddled with problems, was a seismic shock to everyone inside a packed Loftus Road.
Hughes is perfectly justified in highlighting the competitive nature of this season’s Premier League – Swansea’s obvious quality was evidence enough – but such sentiments will not sit well with Tony Fernandes, the ambitious chairman who expects bigger and better than last season’s 17th place.
Late in the game, the cameras panned to Fernandes, who sat in the stands with a face like thunder.
The tone for the afternoon was set by goalkeeper Rob Green in the eighth minute. At 32 years old, Green in many ways epitomises Hughes’s transfer policy this summer; a player of vast Premier League experience who has done it all before signed to add nous and a cool head.
So when Miguel Michu’s firmly struck but saveable shot squeezed through Green’s gloves to nestle in the bottom corner, Hughes must have feared the worst.
After his early error, Green looked beset by nerves. He was completely flummoxed by a first-half corner which Ashley Williams thumped against the crossbar.
It is tempting to wonder whether Paddy Kenny, shipped out to Leeds United this summer, would have done any worse.
But Green was not alone, indeed he was hindered by a defence which endured a nightmarish afternoon. Anton Ferdinand and Clint Hill made such a vulnerable pairing at centre-back that it is surely a certainty that a new central defender will be ushered in before transfer deadline day.
But should that have already happened? QPR’s problems at central defence were well documented last season.
A good team is built from the back, yet while Hughes has strengthened his attack, the defence remains a problem.
Hughes signed Ryan Nelsen from Spurs this summer, another player who knows the top flight well. Having been excluded on Saturday, Nelsen is a fair bet to start at Norwich this weekend.
Then there is the awkward issue of the captaincy, awarded, unsurprisingly, to Ji-Sung Park. Unsurprising, considering QPR’s relentless drive to conquer the Asian market.
Was there really any other choice for the armband but the club’s star South Korean signing?
No-one can argue with the quality that Park brings to the side, combining a cool temperament with a fine passing game and high work-rate, but he is certainly not a vocal player, and when the chips are down as they were against Swansea, is he the player to pull a struggling team together?
Up front, Hughes’s decision to play Djibril Cisse at the head of a three-man attack failed spectacularly. Cisse thrives when he has a second striker to play off, and starved of service by QPR’s midfield, he spent much of the game isolated and frustrated.
If Hughes it to get the best of his striking riches, he may be forced to pair Cisse with either Bobby Zamora or Andy Johnson.
“I expected a much more accomplished performance than was delivered, so we’ll come together and next week we’ll be fundamentally better,” added Hughes. “It’s one game. We have 37 opportunities to make sure it does not happen again. It’s about making sure we learn from today and take the positives.”
It was not an afternoon without positives, which included a promising debut from Junior Hoilett, and for 30 minutes in the first half QPR played some impressive attacking football.
But the opening weekend has left plenty of questions for Hughes to answer. Why was this display so disjointed after a full pre-season which was meant to be the perfect preparation to their second campaign in the top flight?
This early set-back is not a disaster, but it brings into doubt the quality of QPR’s preparations –a commercially successful but energy-sappping tour of Asia – and Hughes’s transfer strategy.
This time there are no mitigating factors for Hughes. Seven of the players who started the match were his signings, and now the Welshman must start getting results, or the pressure will only start to grow.
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