Aston Villa 3-2 QPR: Redknapp's Bizarre Tactical Reflex Costs Rangers Dearly
The game twisted and turned on the back of key tactical decisions from both managers, and as positive as Paul Lambert was, Harry Redknapp dug his own grave.
Let's take a look at how it unfolded.
QPR started in a 4-5-1 formation with Bobby Zamora up front as a target man; Aston Villa played the same 4-3-3 shape that beat Reading at the Madejski Stadium the weekend before.
Christopher Samba man-marked Christian Benteke out of the game for long periods.
Make no mistake about it: Villa started horrendously. Paul Lambert reckons his side were pretty good across the opening 20 minutes, but as well as the claret-and-blue side held possession, it was largely pointless.
They dictated the tempo, much like they did at Reading. But this was a home game, not an away game, and slowing the tempo to a standstill by passing it around without any vertical threat was actually detrimental.
Football is a fickle game, and for the life of me I couldn't believe it when I heard a fan shout "Can't we just play route one?" behind me in the stands.
QPR's 4-5-1 was incredibly efficient and very well organised, but Villa made no moves to try to break this down. No midfielder ran at the opposition with pace; no one tried an incisive pass through the ranks; the full-backs failed to venture forward and stretch the pitch.
This was because the R's pressing game was so good, no time on the ball was given in the final third, and, as a result, the final pass lacked quality, precision and commitment.
Redknapp's Curious Switch
QPR boss Harry Redknapp told the BBC after the game that he believes his side should have been 4-0 up at halftime. He's not wrong in suggesting his side were by far the better of the two, so that simply begs the question: Why did he change it?
Zamora, who had given Ciaran Clark and Ron Vlaar 45 minutes of hell, was inexplicably subbed off. Junior Hoilett came on, Loic Remy moved up front and the plan became clear: Remy's pace and movement on the counter was how QPR were looking to play this one out.
But all this came at a cost.
The pressing game that had ruffled Villa's feathers so vigorously fell away because Redknapp's side intentionally dropped deep, invited their opponents forward and hoped they could hit them with a devastating counter.
This allowed Villa's full-backs—who had previously looked reluctant to commit themselves forward—to creep forward into more attacking positions and combine properly with wide forwards Andi Weimann and Gabby Agbonlahor.
Sustained pressure on QPR's goal resulted in a strike for Weimann after impressive work by Joe Bennett, and at 2-1 down it looked like Redknapp had flinched far too early.
"Zoggie" the Catalyst
With QPR deep and the wide areas looking fruitful, Lambert shuffled his pack.
He switched from a 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1, deployed Ashley Westwood and Barry Bannan as the holding midfield pivot and brought Charles N'Zogbia on as a No. 10.
He barely played centrally, though, and drifted from side to side and helped Villa create overloads on the flanks.
What ensued was three-versus-two situations with a little ingenuity, and some quality patient buildup on the sidelines saw Lambert's Lions create plenty of chances in the final 20 minutes.
Tactics only get you so far, and Brad Guzan had a superb game to keep Villa in it.
Questions hang over the decision to allow Benteke to mark Samba at set pieces, as the Belgian lost every single duel and was very nearly responsible for a two-goal deficit.
But Redknapp had his team beating Villa in almost every aspect, and he changed it so unnecessarily.
Whether this was due to the timing of the home side's equaliser and subsequently anticipated an onslaught or not only he can say, but what we can confirm is his flinching lost his side the game.
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