Finding attacking rhythm key to QPR's survival hopes

ZonalMarking.net's Michael Cox uses FourFourTwo's StatsZone app – now FREE – to analyse Harry Redknapp's striking options...

Queens Park Rangers’ form in recent weeks has been curious. They’ve performed extremely well against Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester City – collecting five points and three clean sheets against three fearsome sides – yet against Norwich and West Ham they’ve failed to win. Picking up surprise results in ‘bonus’ matches is futile if bottom-half clubs aren’t 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 Liverpool’s 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 QPR’s most recent match was particularly worrying.

But while QPR’s 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 Frenchman’s groin injury has caused yet more strife. Harry Redknapp has been forced to field four different strikers in recent weeks – 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.

Remy’s injury was particularly frustrating because he had made an excellent start to life in the Premier League, scoring on his debut against West Ham. Remy’s 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 Redknapp’s centre-forward in recent weeks. He played an important role in QPR’s 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 doesn’t offer the same speed and has a frustrating habit of making his runs too early – 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.

Redknapp’s third centre-forward has been Adel Taarabt. A natural No.10 rather than a striker, Taarabt interprets the role exactly how you’d expect – 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 Taarabt’s link-up play is useful in deep position, he simply doesn’t offer a sufficient goal threat or receive the ball frequently enough in the final third – 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 QPR’s defence, and provided more of a penalty box presence than Taarabt.

There’s at least a similarity with Remy – 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 – a pacey striker, a hard-working all-rounder, a false nine and a target man – might be useful if the rest of QPR’s 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 QPR’s confusion.

Still, having won only two games all season, it’s remarkable that QPR are only seven points away from survival. A good spell from one striker – like Djibril Cisse’s at this point last year – combined with the recent habit of keeping clean sheets, and QPR may yet complete another unlikely escape.

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