Season Preview: QPR

By Jonathan Lines

For a club celebrating promotion and preparing for its first season in the top flight of English football for 15 years, Queen’s Park Rangers have spent a worrying amount of time in the news for the wrong reasons over the past few months. First, there was the issue with Alejandro Faurlin, the player QPR were deemed to have broken F.A. third-party regulations in acquiring. The charge had threatened to jeopardise the club’s bid for promotion. Rangers were spared a points deduction and finished top of the Championship.

But this was not the end of the controversy. With skyrocketing prices at the club, with season tickets up almost 40%, fans’ excitement at promotion has been mitigated by their disgruntlement at the actions of its board. Meanwhile, vice-chairman Amit Bhatia has resigned over arguments within the boardroom, citing the issue of inflated ticket prices as an important factor in his stepping down, and there have been growing rumours of a takeover at the club too.

Soon it will be the coaches’ and players’ turn in the limelight.. And it will be up to them to let their football, rather than the club’s off-field troubles, grab the headlines. QPR will bring an exciting and attractive brand of attacking football to the Premier League, just as all of this season’s promoted sides will, and while there is no doubt that QPR will entertain, do they have what it takes to stay up?

Manager Neil Warnock
Last Season 1st (Championship)
2011/12 odds:
Danny Gabbidon (West Ham) Free, Kieron Dyer (West Ham) Free, Jay Bothroyd (Cardiff City) Free
Out Angel Balanta (MK Dons) Loan, Lee Brown (Bristol Rovers) Free, Mikele Leigertwood (Reading) Free, Joe Oastler (Torquay) Free, Giorgos Tofas (Anagennisi Deryneia) Free

Keys to the season

The headline signing of QPR’s pre-season has been Jay Bothroyd, moving from Cardiff City on a free transfer. The 28-year-old striker enjoyed a fine run of form over the first half of last season for the Welsh club, earning his first England cap along the way, and finished with 18 league goals. Rangers have some excellent midfielders, with plenty of creation and ability in Alejandro Faurlin, a playmaker who looks every bit the Premiership player, and Adel Taarabt further up the pitch. Adding Bothroyd as the man to grab the goals from the chances the club’s support cast looks likely to create, a player who was inevitably going to move to the Premiership this summer, would appear a smart move. But fans will be concerned that the nomadic striker has never made an impact at this level, and will be more worried about his loss of form over the second half of the season, which coincided with Cardiff’s declining promotion challenge. But if Bothroyd fires and the service to him is as good as expected, Rangers will stand a great chance of survival.

The Team

Warnock’s QPR usually line up in a 4-2-3-1 system. Matthew Connolly and Kaspars Gorkss make up the heart of the defence, and will enter the season as first-choice central defensive pairing. Warnock’s side were a much-improved defensive unit last season and it will be interesting to see how their defence, marshalled by Paddy Kenny, entering his second year at the club, copes at this level. Ahead of them, Faurlin and Shaun Derry formed a well-balanced and hugely effective central-midfield partnership in the Championship, with Taarabt high up the pitch, at times on the wings. Jamie Mackie and Jay Bothroyd are likely to be competing for the sole striker spot. Losing Wayne Routledge, the loan signing who has since joined Swansea, will be a blow, after the winger enjoyed an excellent spell at the club. It might also be of some concern that some questionable signings have been made so far this summer. Alongside Bothroyd, Warnock has opted for experience, bringing in West Ham duo Danny Gabbidon and Kieron Dyer. In finding available players with Premiership experience, quality has perhaps been sacrificed. It is difficult to see what either will offer the team other than cover.

Key Player

At the risk of sounding clichéd it would have to be Adel Taarabt, and not only because of his undoubted quality. QPR’s best player last season, with 19 goals and 16 assists in the league, he should feel more than comfortable in this division. But his own fate will also be important in deciding that of the club. Long touted for a summer transfer to a leading European club, with Paris St. Germain having mulled over a bid for the (now retired) Moroccan international, Rangers have told their player he is staying put. But the 22-year-old has a reputation for throwing a tantrum or two, and the West London club will not be needing the disruptive influence on the team an unsettled Taarabt might bring, especially because he is their captain. If he can replicate the form he showed last term throughout this season (and I would say that’s a big ‘if’), his team should be optimistic about their survival chances. Equally, if Taarabt does leave, the form of players like Alejandro Faurlin and Jay Bothroyd will be crucial to their hopes of staying up.

Opening fixtures

Bolton (H), Everton (A), Wigan (A), Newcastle (H), Wolves (A)

These five sides, just as most teams would probably admit, would want least of all to face a hungry promoted club in August and early September. Home form can also be so crucial in deciding whether promoted sides can survive, and Rangers will be targeting two wins from their first two games, while also expecting to take something from their opening away fixtures too. A poor start to a 38-game season would certainly not be disastrous for the club, but not picking up points in these early games, so often a fruitful time for promoted clubs, and against sides they might be competing against at the bottom come the end of the season, might indicate they will struggle.

Where will they finish?

Where so many promoted teams struggle for goals, this, in theory, should not be a problem for Rangers, given the vast amounts of creativity in the team. That said, fans will be hopeful that more signings will be made, certainly before the transfer window closes, especially given how much extra they are being required to spend to support their club’s promotion. But QPR’s attacking intelligence might surprise one or two teams this season, and there is plenty of potential in their side both defensively and going forward. With a little bit of luck, they might be OK. 16th

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