Queens Park Rangers 2012: Keys to Victory over Tottenham Hotspur
Both Queens Park Rangers and Tottenham Hotspur have had stuttering starts to the season so far. However, with Rangers grinding out a good draw at home to Chelsea, and Spurs winning comfortably away at Reading last weekend, both teams seem to be on the up.
Rangers travel to their North London counterparts on Sunday, searching for their first three points of the season, but it will not be an easy away trip. Spurs have replaced the players they lost in the summer with stars such as Clint Dempsey, Mousa Dembele, and Jan Vertonghen. Add in the form which Jermain Defoe and Gareth Bale seem to be finding, and you have yourselves a dangerous team to face.
Andre Villas-Boas has used the international break wisely, and is beginning to utilize his Tottenham team in a formation that works, and tactics that bring the best out of the players. Mark Hughes also seems to have spent two weeks working with the new look Rangers squad, and will be aware how tough a test a visit to White Hart Lane will be.
Hughes' tactics and substitutions raised an eyebrow or two in the games against Swansea and Norwich, however his team selection and tactical nous against bitter rivals Chelsea on Saturday gave the Rs a much needed point, and seemed to strike the right chord with supporters.
For Rangers to take anything out of the game at Spurs, there are five issues which need to be addressed, and if done so, could open the door for Queens Park Rangers' maiden victory this season.
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Shaun Wright-Phillips, or rather, the lack of Shaun Wright-Phillips, will be essential to coming away from White Hart Lane with three points. Wright-Phillips has looked lackluster in recent games, hasn't scored a single League goal for QPR, and has been searching for that final ball since 1999. Yet, Mark Hughes stubbornly continues to start the 30-year old.
This should come as no surprise to those who have followed Shaun's career, as it was Hughes who re-signed him to Manchester City in '08. However, with talent such as Jamie Mackie, Junior Hoillet and Adel Taarabt all sat warming the bench on the weekends, surely his time on the team sheet is up?
Gareth Bale will be Wright-Phillips' probable opposite number on Sunday, and there is a noticeable gulf in class between the two. Bale's speed, passing, and movement will leave Wright-Phillips out of his depth, and will open up a huge area for Tottenham to exploit.
Giving Bale too much space is something Hughes and Queens Park Rangers cannot afford to do, and if Wright-Phillips starts? You'll see at least two goals coming from the left, with SWP, flat footed, watching on, head in hands.
Spurs' Left Back Gap
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With Tottenham's Benoit Assou-Ekotto out for the remainder of September, Andre Villas-Boas had to play Kyle Naughton at left back last weekend, and looks like he will be used in this position again on Sunday.
Kyle Naughton, much like his team mate Kyle Walker, was tipped for great things, after both being snapped up from Sheffield United in 2009. However the former Kyle, unlike the latter Kyle, has not fulfilled the potential he showed when at the Yorkshire club, and looks to be the main weakness in this Spurs team for the game against Queens Park Rangers.
When there is an opposition player with little Premier League experience at left back, you need your right winger to be capable of capitalizing on that opportunity. And as previously mentioned, Shaun Wright-Phillips is not that man.
With the left back position vulnerable, Rangers need to play an attacking right midfielder who is able to run at Naughton with pace, and deliver a decent ball into the box. If Mark Hughes selects his team based on exploiting that weakness, and looks to play the majority of the balls down the right hand side, QPR may well have a chance of nicking a goal, and stealing the game.
Yes, critics will say that Villas-Boas will simply move another man across field to cover for Naughton, but this will then open up space in the middle of the park for Rangers to take full advantage of.
Central Midfield Partnership
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These midfield maestros have only had two games together, but Esteban Granero & Alejandro Faurlin are a critical part of Queens Park Rangers' performance. Since returning from injury, Faurlin has recaptured the form he showed in the early 2011/12 season, and Granero is proving to be worth every single penny since moving from Real Madrid this summer.
Against Chelsea, Faurlin managed the highest percentage of successful passes from either team as reported by the FourFourTwo Stats Zone App: 88% completion in fact. Add in to the mix four out of five successful tackles, plus three interceptions, and Rangers have found themselves their very own Andres Iniesta.
But to every Iniesta, there must be a Xavi, and QPR's ex-Galactico Esteban Granero could well be the Loftus Road equivalent. The partnership that Granero and Faurlin have already built up is leaving Rs supporters swooning over the fluid movement, the solid tackles and the pin point passing from both men. And by the looks of things, they are only just beginning.
If Granero and Faurlin can control the play, as convincingly as last weekend, then Tottenham will have a hard time dominating the midfield. If Rangers can take command the middle of the park, and if Faurlin's passing success rate is anywhere as near as impressive as previous games, then the service to the front men will be of high quality, and should deliver a goal.
On Song Cisse
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Katy Perry could well have based her song 'Hot and Cold' on Djibril Cisse, as the Frenchman is one of the most inconsistent strikers in the Premier League. Cisse's performances against Swansea City and Norwich City were less than inspiring, and the consequence of which, meant Cisse has been used sparingly from the bench in more recent games.
However, with Andrew Johnson out injured due to an anterior cruciate ligament injury for the foreseeable future, Djibril Cisse will have to step up to the plate. Teammate Bobby Zamora has been carrying Queens Park Rangers offensively, with both of Rangers' league goals coming from the ex-Fulham front man.
Although Cisse has been more 'non' than 'oui' recently, in form he is electric. He scored six goals in twelve games for Queens Park Rangers, including the last minute winner against Stoke City in the penultimate game of the season, which ultimately saved Rangers from relegation.
If Cisse is chosen by Mark Hughes to start on Sunday, Cisse will need to justify that selection with a performance which far surpasses anything we have seen from him this season. With a strike partner, and much better supply from the midfield than he received earlier in the season, Cisse should thrive against Tottenham on Sunday.
If Bobby Zamora keeps Jan Vertonghen busy, this could leave space for the physical strength and predatory instinct of Djibril Cisse to score his first of the season. And with a goal on the board, Rangers can shut down at the back and grind out a victory.
Defend, Defend, Defend
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Scoring goals is all very well and good, but if the team does not have the defense, the opposition will simply just score more. In the past month, however, Queens Park Rangers have strengthened their back line, and strengthened it significantly.
Julio Cesar is a world class goalkeeper, there is no doubt about that, and the results speak from themselves. With former number one Rob Green conceding nine goals in three games, Rangers' defense was leaky to say the least. However Cesar managed a clean sheet, pulling off some superb saves against Champions League holders Chelsea in his first game for the club.
However, for the game against Tottenham, Cesar will not have the cover of Anton Ferdinand or Fabio da Silva, who are both out with minor injuries. Therefore the central defensive partnership will have to be chosen from Ryan Nelson, Nedem Onouha, Clint Hill and Stephane M'bia.
With none of these having enough playing time to have established a solid partnership as yet, there are fears that Spurs could open up the Rangers back line with ease.
The replacement for Fabio da Silva will most likely be Armand Traore, who is actually a more experienced and reliable left back than Fabio. The issue Hughes will be facing, is however, will Traore be able to cope with Aaron Lennon and Gylfi Sigurdsson down the right?
It is essential that whomever starts at center back, communicates with the other. Julio Cesar can only do so much without cover, and must not be left facing a one on one situation against any of the Spurs' strikers.
The wing backs also have a part to play in this too, if Jose Bosingwa and Armand Traore spend more time attacking than defending, with the threat down the wings which Spurs possess, this will leave Cesar exposed again.
If the back line work together however, and Cesar shows the class he did against Chelsea. Rangers will keep the goals against tally down, and will have a decent chance of pipping Spurs to the victory line come ninety minutes.