The QPR Verdict: Why Cisse ban has proved a blessing for Rangers
With the Rs on a rich run of form, should Mark Hughes risk restoring his striker to the line-up?
Djibril Cisse has certainly had a say in QPR’s relegation battle – but not quite in the way the �4 million forward imagined.
Barely a month ago, with three goals to his name since he signed from Lazio in January, Cisse appeared the man capable of single-handedly saving QPR’s season.
When he was shown the second red card of his short Rangers career at Sunderland, thus earning a four-match ban, it was seen by many as a mortal blow to QPR’s season. Cisse was, after all, signed with one purpose in mind: score the goals to keep his side up.
In a season where goals have been in relatively short supply, he made a breakneck start, with clinical strikes against Aston Villa, Bolton Wanderers and Liverpool, and displayed early signs of an understanding with fellow new signing Bobby Zamora.
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However, his dismissal at the Stadium of Light and his subsequent extended absence pulled the rug from underneath his manager Mark Hughes’s feet.
With top-scorer Heidar Helguson and DJ Campbell both injured, Hughes, a manager who historically has favoured playing two strikers, was forced to go against his instincts and build his side around his most effective remaining forward – Zamora.
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It proved to be a light-bulb moment. With Rangers having tried 4-4-2 at various points this season – with generally negative results - Hughes switched to a 4-2-3-1 formation. And in Cisse’s absence, QPR have romped to three consecutive home wins.
With injuries elsewhere in the squad easing, the manager has had the luxury of fielding a settled side, with the majority of his players able to play to their strengths in their favoured position.
The 4-2-3-1 set-up which has brought QPR so much success is not a new feature; it was employed by Neil Warnock, with limited success, in the early months of the campaign.
In those early games, it was summer signing Jay Bothhroyd occupying the central role, supported on either wing by Shaun Wright-Phillips and Adel Taarabt.
The system was flawed for a multitude of reasons. After a promising debut against Newcastle United, Wright-Phillips suffered a dramatic loss of form. On the few occasions he did manage to find Bothroyd with a cross or pass, Bothroyd was frequently off target and appeared bereft of confidence.
Taarabt, having missed out on a summer move to Paris Saint-Germain, was listless and disinterested. The sum total was that Rangers were depressingly toothless up front.
Hughes has addressed all those issues. His first wise move was to replace the desperately poor Wright-Phillips with the hungry, passionate and powerful figure of Jamie Mackie.
Taarabt is also now thriving, and seems to be benefitting from the structure Hughes has brought to the training pitch. With Taarabt now matching his forward forays with defensive discipline, Rangers are less vulnerable on the counter-attack.
Samba Diakite is an able replacement for the injured Alejandro Faurlin in central midfield, while Joey Barton, for a long time a fish out of water on the right of a four-man midfield, has been returned to his favoured advanced midfield role.
Perhaps the most significant impact, though, has been that of Zamora. Far more suited to his demanding role than Bothroyd, the muscular Zamora’s ability to bring figures such as Mackie into play has proved vital.
It was telling that, despite having a fully-fit Cisse available for Saturday’s clash with Tottenham, Hughes chose to keep him on the bench, and stick with the line-up which has worked so well.
Hughes now has a decision to make: Does he turn to Cisse against Chelsea, and for the final two games of the season.
Rangers head to Stamford Bridge knowing that four points – perhaps even three – from their last three matches would in all likelihood be enough to keep them in the Premier League.
To restore Cisse to the line-up and return to 4-4-2 against a team of Chelsea’s quality would be to needlessly risk his side being swamped in midfield – an outcome the cautious Hughes will not entertain.
Perhaps a more favourable alternative would be to play Cisse on the left of his attack, replacing Taarabt, who will miss the game after his red card against Tottenham.
That would increase the Rs’ attacking potency, however, with question-marks over Cisse’s discipline, and with the stakes so high, Hughes may opt for the safer option of DJ Campbell, who combines a goal threat with a calm head.
Cisse will almost certainly have an impact on QPR’s final league standing this season - against Stoke City at home next week, when Hughes may throw caution to the wind, there would be a stronger case for a return to 4-4-2.
However, with his side in an encouraging run of form going into the clash at Stamford Bridge, to play Cisse would represent a gamble, and the Frenchman’s wait to have a conclusive say in the relegation battle may well go on.
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