The last time Queens Park Rangers played West Ham was in 2004—I know, I thought they had faced each other much more recently than that, too. Those were the days when Bobby Zamora and Anton Ferdinand were still young whipper-snapper-Hammers, and a youthful Paul Furlong was still patrolling the football league at the young age of 74.
But how will QPR combat a newly promoted West Ham, find that illusive home goal, and win their first league match of the season? Here are five key points which Mark Hughes will need to address on Monday to achieve one, or all, of those successes.
Some fans, fans who need to realize that a season is 38 games long and not five, are already getting frustrated at Mark Hughes and his blue-and-white army. No wins and a Capital One Cup exit on Wednesday has meant some people have taken to social networking sites, blog forums and radio phone-in shows asking for Hughes to be sacked.
There are always calls for a manager's head, especially if the club's start to a season is abysmal, which, in all honesty, the results have been. But if you look beyond the scores and see the way QPR are playing, you will notice a vast improvement on last season.
Although good football but poor results doesn't keep a man in his job (unless you are called Arsene Wenger) patience is a virtue, and Hughes has very nearly found a winning formula. Get behind the manager, get behind the team. A little positivity can go a long way, and this match against West Ham could well be the turning point.
Kevin Nolan has scored three of West Ham's five Premier League goals so far, which speaks volumes. The fact that the strikers haven't managed to get off the mark yet shows the quality of the Hammers' midfield, especially in the final third.
With Kevin Nolan, Mohamed Diame and Mark Noble the preferred three across midfield, all have very dangerous qualities which need to be subdued. If Hughes decides to go for a 4-5-1 formation, which I am not a huge fan of, or the 4-2-3-1 which seems to work a little better for QPR, then Rangers will be able to crowd out the midfield and take control of possession.
Crowding out said midfield will be essential, as Rangers will need to stop the Hammers from playing free-flowing football in the middle of the park, and restrict Nolan and co. from pressing forward into potential goal-scoring situations.
West Ham have played fairly well away from home so far. The only game they seemed to struggle in was against Swansea City—and I think Rangers may know a thing or two about falling to the pace of the Swans as well.
Nathan Dyer steamrolled West Ham in August, in much the same way he steamrolled Rangers, and Hughes needs his wide players to do the exact same thing on Monday to take something out of the game. West Ham are most vulnerable down the wings: Guy Demel is prone drifting up-field, and Joey O'Brien's not a natural left back—if they line up as they have in the past few games—and Rangers need to capitalize on that.
With Sam Allardyce regularly using a 4-3-3 formation, that leaves ample room down the flanks for one of Junior Hoilett, and either Jamie Mackie or Shaun Wright-Phillips (although it will most likely be the latter, no matter how many times I protest), to use their pace to run to the byline and flash balls across the goalmouth for somebody to tap into the back of the net.
And that someone who could stick the ball in the net? Bobby Zamora. Although relying on just one striker is a very dangerous game plan, Rangers don't seem to have a choice at the moment, and Zamora in all fairness is producing the goods. The ex-Hammer will need to work as hard as he did against Tottenham to add to his tally of three, and score QPR's first home goal(s) of the season.
However Junior Hoilett has started to find some form too, and will hopefully switch to a more striking position when the ball is moved forward to give Zamora some assistance. If Zamora gets the service from the wing, and is not left up top alone all game, then Rangers could turn their Loftus Road goal drought into a downpour.
The issue that has befallen Queens Park Rangers in recent weeks is not that they have played badly; far from it, they have shown skill, passion and determination since the international break. The issue is that they have conceded soft, easily preventable goals.
Julio Cesar is amazing, but he needs the cover from the back line to prevent the opposition from being one-on-one with the goalkeeper, leaving him high and dry. The defense has definitely tightened up since the first day of the season, but there is still a crucial lack of concentration at key times. If Clint Hill and Ryan Nelsen don't switch off against West Ham and provide Julio Cesar with a solid last line of defense, then we could see an accomplished display like that against Chelsea.
If the back line can do that, the midfield can stifle the opposition's play and Zamora can get his head, knee or little toe on the end of a cross, Rangers should win this. And I will even go so far as to say, win this comfortably.