Queens Park RangersÃ¢ÂÂ form in recent weeks has been curious. TheyÃ¢ÂÂve performed extremely well against Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester City Ã¢ÂÂ collecting five points and three clean sheets against three fearsome sides Ã¢ÂÂ yet against Norwich and West Ham theyÃ¢ÂÂve failed to win. Picking up surprise results in Ã¢ÂÂbonusÃ¢ÂÂ matches is futile if bottom-half clubs arenÃ¢ÂÂt defeated to get serious points on the board.
The situation in defence has been particularly strange. Ryan Nelsen and Clint Hill occasionally looked dreadful as a partnership, with Luis Suarez enjoying the freedom of the penalty box in LiverpoolÃ¢ÂÂs 3-0 victory at Loftus Road at the end of 2012, but before Nelsen left for the MLS, the combination had conceded just one goal in their previous four matches.
The expensive signing of Christopher Samba was a decent replacement for Nelsen, yet has arguably not significantly strengthened the defence. The 4-1 defeat to Swansea in QPRÃ¢ÂÂs most recent match was particularly worrying.
But while QPRÃ¢ÂÂs defence is only the seventh worst in the league, their attack is the least potent by a considerable margin. The signing of Loic Remy was supposed to alleviate their goalscoring problems, but the FrenchmanÃ¢ÂÂs groin injury has caused yet more strife. Harry Redknapp has been forced to field four different strikers in recent weeks Ã¢ÂÂ Remy, Jamie Mackie, Adel Taarabt and Bobby Zamora. The major problem is that all four are completely different kinds of players, forcing QPR to completely change their style according to the identity of their central striker.
RemyÃ¢ÂÂs injury was particularly frustrating because he had made an excellent start to life in the Premier League, scoring on his debut against West Ham. RemyÃ¢ÂÂs main quality is his searing pace, and he thrives upon balls knocked over the top of the opposition defence, particularly in the channels.
His link-up play is also impressive, and his debut performance demonstrated that he can either come short to link play, or receive longer, straight balls to attack directly. His tendency to make runs towards the right of the pitch is illustrated by the position of his received passes, and also the position of his three shots against West Ham.
Jamie Mackie is another to have started as RedknappÃ¢ÂÂs centre-forward in recent weeks. He played an important role in QPRÃ¢ÂÂs survival last season on the right, but lacks the raw quality to provide consistent goalscoring upfront.
Like Remy, he likes breaking onto balls played in behind, but doesnÃ¢ÂÂt offer the same speed and has a frustrating habit of making his runs too early Ã¢ÂÂ in the game against Aston Villa in December, he was caught offside six times in 90 minutes. As more of a traditional British centre-forward, he also acts as more of a target for crosses than Remy, but is hardly the most powerful striker aerially.
RedknappÃ¢ÂÂs third centre-forward has been Adel Taarabt. A natural No.10 rather than a striker, Taarabt interprets the role exactly how youÃ¢ÂÂd expect Ã¢ÂÂ dropping deep into midfield positions to link play, and creating space for the wingers to burst into. His performance in that position in the 1-0 win over Chelsea was highly effective, and he provided some excellent passes for Shaun Wright-Phillips in the goalless draw against Tottenham.
But although TaarabtÃ¢ÂÂs link-up play is useful in deep position, he simply doesnÃ¢ÂÂt offer a sufficient goal threat or receive the ball frequently enough in the final third Ã¢ÂÂ summed up by his first-half performance last time out, at Swansea.
Taarabt only played upfront for the first half, because Redknapp moved him deeper at the break when introducing Bobby Zamora. A more traditional target man, Zamora was the recipient of many long balls hit from QPRÃ¢ÂÂs defence, and provided more of a penalty box presence than Taarabt.
ThereÃ¢ÂÂs at least a similarity with Remy Ã¢ÂÂ Zamora generally works the right channel, something he did excellently in his Fulham days, before attempting to curl the ball into the far corner with his left foot.
Having four separate tactical options Ã¢ÂÂ a pacey striker, a hard-working all-rounder, a false nine and a target man Ã¢ÂÂ might be useful if the rest of QPRÃ¢ÂÂs side was settled and cohesive. But in a squad that has seen consistent changes over the past 18 months and lacks any kind of reliable structure on the pitch, the different options upfront are adding to QPRÃ¢ÂÂs confusion.
Still, having won only two games all season, itÃ¢ÂÂs remarkable that QPR are only seven points away from survival. A good spell from one striker Ã¢ÂÂ like Djibril CisseÃ¢ÂÂs at this point last year Ã¢ÂÂ combined with the recent habit of keeping clean sheets, and QPR may yet complete another unlikely escape.
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