Queens Park Rangers: Blueprint for Survival Isn't Pretty, but It's Working
Queens Park Rangers' recent blueprint to avoid relegation in the English Premier League isn't the most brilliant plan ever conceived—in fact, it's rather ugly.
Yet for all it's ugliness and unattractiveness, Harry Redknapp is slowly developing a formula for success at the London club that could, somehow, see them avoid the dreaded drop zone by the end of the 2012-13 Premier League season.
As crazy as that might seem, given what we've seen so far this year.
Under former manager Mark Hughes, QPR were simply horrendous in the opening few rounds of the competition, and their results proved that to be true.
Winless through their opening 12 matches, Rangers had just four points to speak of and were a distant last when Hughes was sacked. Given the form they'd showed so far, they looked like they would indeed receive the wooden spoon this year.
Yet under Redknapp, things have slowly started to turn around.
It started with a scoreless draw away to Sunderland, a fixture that is never easy to pick up points at—Manchester City, Liverpool and West Ham have all dropped points playing at the Stadium of Light this year, so the point was in fact a good result for the London club.
QPR would then go on to pick up draws against Aston Villa (home) and Wigan Athletic (away) before finally breaking through for their maiden win of the year against Fulham. Redknapp was undefeated in four matches and finally had the team believing once more than they could still earn something from the 2012-13 Premier League season.
They were playing good attacking football and were opening up their opponents with goal-scoring opportunities—all whilst holding out at the other end.
That was, until they played Liverpool.
The Merseyside club netted three goals in the first half of the Dec. 30 match to set up a commanding lead—all of which had come about as a result of poor defending. Rangers were trying too much with the ball and were being caught out through the middle and in defense because of it.
Yet in the second half, we saw something much different from Redknapp's men: We saw the first indication as to how they were going to avoid relegation this year.
Defense. Consolidation. Counterattack.
The very tactics that Chelsea had employed with such success against Barcelona and Bayern Munich in the Champions League were on display once more—albeit in a less exciting, less skillful manner than what we saw from the Blues.
And against Liverpool, the tactics worked.
The Reds would finish the match with 67 percent possession, 85 percent pass completion and 19 shots, but they wouldn't score another goal.
They would dominate the match in every aspect imaginable other than the one category that matters more than any—the scoresheet.
After the match, Redknapp called their second-half tactics "damage limitation... not conceding any more goals than we already had" (per BBC Sport).
It wasn't pretty, nor did it win any fans over, but it was a successful tactic employed by QPR.
So they took it to Chelsea the next week.
The European Champions were expected to wipe the floor with Redknapp's boys as teams had done all season long. Many were asking not whether Chelsea would win but rather how much they would end up winning by and with what ease.
Yet QPR, armed with the same plan as the week before, proceeded to hold the Blues at bay for 80 minutes and then sneak a goal on the counterattack. They would hold off Rafa Benitez's men to record one of the biggest upsets in recent Premier League history, despite the numbers pointing to a comfortable win for the West London club.
The Blues had 64 percent possession, 85 percent pass completion and a staggering 26 attempts on goal, but they would not win the match—further consolidating the idea to Redknapp that "damage limitation" might actually work for Rangers this year.
We saw it in operation once more on Jan. 12 against Tottenham Hotspur, who at the time were one of the most in-form teams in the league.
Rangers would losing the possession, pass completion and attempts on goal battles, as expected. But they would win the one battle they needed to win: They would hang on for a scoreless draw and chalk up their fifth straight half of football without conceding a goal.
Again, it wasn't pretty, but it was successful.
And if Rangers continue to work with it throughout the remainder of the season, they could well do enough to avoid relegation—as crazy as that thought might have seemed two months back when Redknapp first took over the club.
If QPR can continue to consolidate at the back and frustrate their opponents by not conceding, they may well stay in the top flight for another year.
Redknapp knows that this is their only hope at success this year—something that came out in his post-match interview earlier when discussing just how good the Liverpool team was.
He knows that his players cannot match the likes of Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard, and thus playing defense and keeping them out is his only option if he wants to succeed.
Chelsea knew last year they couldn't beat Lionel Messi in the Champions League; they had to let Barcelona beat Messi at their own game. The same is true with QPR, who know that "damage limitation" or "parking the bus" is their only hope at staying alive.
Hence why QPR's transfer window has unfolded the way it has.
Rangers have brought in former Chelsea defender Tal Ben Haim to boost their defense—someone who has experience and solitude at the back.
They're close to signing Rennes defensive midfielder Yann M'Vila, who could hold the side together under a barrage of offensive attacks.
And now they appear to have nabbed Loic Remy from Marseille, pending a medical at the London club, giving them the perfect man to thrive on the counterattack and fast break, much like how Chelsea utilized Didier Drogba in the Champions League.
QPR's entire focus now is on building at the back and consolidating their defense. You can see it in the way their transfer strategy is developing.
They know—Redknapp knows—they aren't going to score the goals to beat Liverpool 4-3 or Chelsea 5-2. Their opponents are simply too good for that, and Rangers do not have the midfield or attacking strength to make that happen this season.
Will QPR avoid relegation?
If they try to take them on strength for strength, they would lose.
But if they play smart and allow them to beat themselves, then they have a real chance at winning and avoiding relegation in the process.
It might not be the most beautiful or glamorous tactic from Redknapp—heck, it might not even be close to anything other than pure boredom.
But it is effective and it is working so far in 2013, and it's hard to say no to that.
Ask anybody whether they'd rather play gloriously and get relegated or play ugly and stay promoted—the answer will likely be the same every time.
It only took Redknapp's arrival to QPR to figure that out.
Is Harry Redknapp's tactic of "parking the bus" right for QPR?
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