This article is all things QPR before the new season kicks off in earnest this Saturday – a look at the opening fixture; an overview of last season and the merits or otherwise of sacking Ian Holloway; an introduction to the new gaffer Steve McClare, a look forward to what we can expect from Rangers in the coming year and the new number 10.
The computer that churns out the fixtures came up with an absolute belter to kick off the new season! Hardly one to set the pulses racing for anyone, even the supporters of Preston and QPR would have been slightly underwhelmed.
Preston has never been a happy hunting ground for Rangers, then again few northern outposts have, so the Rangers faithful heading up to Deepdale on Saturday will not be particularly optimistic.
For Preston, their supporters will be rubbing their hands together knowing that their team will be strong favourites to notch up their first three points of the season.
Yet Rangers have to make these trips so why not right now, and this will be a very good early test of the new era under new boss Steve McClaren and an opportunity to see what changes or progress he has made since taking over as manager from Ian Holloway.
So what can be expected from Rangers this season ?
Last season – Ian Holloway, Financial Fair Play, The Young Guns
It is only right to begin such analysis by considering the effect of the change of manager after Ian Holloway was removed from office in May. As always, there are contrasting views as to whether this was the right decision and no one really knows at this stage. The proof will be in the playing and potential progress, or otherwise, in this coming season, but even then, unless there is a massive improvement or decline, maybe we will never know. The same could be said for other much larger London clubs who have made similar decisions – Chelsea, Arsenal and West Ham.
Many would have given Holloway another season in charge at Rangers as he clearly loves the club and is both very passionate and very loyal to it. He could never be accused of not wearing his heart on his sleeve but arguably that may have contributed to his downfall.
It must be said that he did a reasonably decent job with scant resources in his period in charge, particularly with the Financial Fair Play penalty hanging over the club’s head during his tenure, which clearly restricted his opportunity to wheel and deal.
However, with it came something of a bonus, as many would argue, for Holloway had to look to the youth at the club and he really did uncover a few gems. Clearly reluctant at first, indeed he said that picking young Irishman Paul Smyth to make his debut on New Year’s Day against Cardiff was ‘the biggest risk of his managerial career’, but he soon warmed to the idea.
Smyth repaid his manager’s faith, proving a constant threat throughout that afternoon, scoring a glorious second half winner and then somersaulting off in celebration for good measure. It was without doubt one of the highlights of the whole season. Some risk !
Smyth was joined by fellow youngsters Aramide Oteh, Bright Osayi-Samuel, Eberechi Eze and Ilias Chair in scoring their first goals for the club and with the likes of Osman Kakay and Joe Lumley also making their debuts, Holloway must take a large degree of credit. He was ultimately well rewarded for having the boldness to give youth its head and hopefully the club will reap the rewards from both a playing and financial perspective in the future.
So, on the basis of this, many Rangers fans probably felt as though he was dismissed just as the young players and the team were beginning to gel and take shape and, given another year, Holloway could really have done something with these young lads.
However, no one outside the inner core really knows what goes on behind the scenes at a football club. For Holloway, there were always question marks over his tactical nous and whether he was really the best man to bring the best out of some of this new and potentially outstanding young talent.
The new gaffer – Steve McClaren
Which brings us neatly to the new boss, Steve McClaren. The appointment of a former England manager might ordinarily be considered something of a coup but, such has been the chequered nature of his career since those days, he has not been universally welcomed.
Whilst he will be forever remembered by the majority of the population as the ‘wally with the brolley” and then for his attempt at local Dutch dialect when in charge at FC Twente, it must also not be forgotten that he did having a highly acclaimed career as a coach to land those positions in the first place, particularly at Manchester United.
In the circumstances, it could be argued that it could have been a lot worse for the Rangers fans and he does at least have some affinity with the club, which supports often like to see. He obviously impressed the powers that be in his short non-contract stint at the club in the Redknapp days albeit, somewhat ironically, he left Rangers to take over at his former club Derby County, whom Rangers then went on to beat in the Play Off Final at Wembley at the end of that season, in arguably the best day for the club in recent memory.
McClaren is without doubt a decent coach yet the big question is whether he will be the man to bring the best out of the young and skilful players that the club currently possesses. As a manager he has come up short on many occasions and there has to be a doubt as to whether he really has the ability to lead a team to any form of success.
The playing squad
For the first time in a while, the Rangers squad for a new season shows very few changes from the end of the previous season, so hopefully there should not be that bedding down period when players get to know each other. In theory, the team should be able to hit the ground running.
Of those who did depart, keeper Alex Smithies and both Nedum Onuoha and Jack Robinson, in the heart of the defence, will definitely be missed, whatever anyone says, but Jamie Mackie and James Perch much less so, on account of their poor injury records and advancing years.
So, all in all, a reasonably decent squad for the new gaffer to work with, the only addition being the German Toni Leistner, who will play in the heart of the defence. On first appearances he seems to be very much in the no-nonsense category of defenders, indeed rather similar to his likely centre back partner Joel Lynch. Pace could be an issue and this is an undoubted concern, and can only be hoped that Grant Hall will be fit enough to take a full part in the season ahead.
The young players are a year older, have had some experience in this league and tasted some individual success, so they should be hungry for more. The more experienced players, the likes of Jake Bidwell, Josh Scowen, Massimo Luongo, Luke Freeman and Matt Smith, should hopefully be re-energised by having a new coach and hopefully some new ideas giving them some fresh impetus too.
If McClaren’s renowned coaching methods can get the team passing and playing, then there are reasons to be hopeful. From the evidence of the pre season fixtures, especially the 3-0 victory over Union Berlin last Saturday, it would appear as though the team will be looking to play a more possession based style of football, which will certainly help the ball players such as Luongo, Freeman, Eze and Smyth, with the Matt Smith long ball option being available too. Of most importance would appear to be McClaren’s desire for the players to play with freedom, have confidence in their ability and to express themselves.
Early evidence would also suggest that McClaren is looking at playing a formation something akin to 4-2-3-1 or 4-2-1-3 albeit with suitable flexibility built in. Matt Ingram looks likely to start in goal with Joe Lumley as his able deputy, albeit it would not be a huge surprise if Lumley gets his chance sooner rather than later; four at the back with the tall promising Osman Kakay in at right back for the unfortunately injured Darnell Furlong, who was at last beginning to fulfil some of his undoubted promise towards the end of last season, alongside Leistner, Lynch and Bidwell; two holding type midfield players in Scowen and Luongo with Eze slotting in at no 10 alongside Osayi-Samuel and Freeman, behind Smith. Alternatively, Eze could sit just behind the three more advanced front players, Smith flanked by Osayi-Samuel and Freeman.
Smyth and Sylla could easily slot into this formation, Chair and Ryan Manning too, but there have to some concerns over the futures of the consistently under-performing Conor Washington, Jordan Cousins, Pavel Wszolek and David Wheeler, all of whom who had arrived with high expectations but such hopes have not been matched on the pitch. However, a new manager with new ideas can always spur players on and it would be perhaps wrong to write them off at this stage of the season.
The new number 10
The number 10. It is a number which resonates loudly with those of a blue and white hooped persuasion. It stirs the emotions and brings back memories of yesteryear, for players who have worn the famous shirt have invariably been a little different to the average footballer – players who are a little more free spirited and can conjure something out of nothing, the likes of Stan Bowles, Rodney Marsh, Tony Currie, Simon Stainrod, Roy Wegerle, John Byrne, Kevin Gallen and more recently Akos Buzsaky and Adel Taarabt.
For the 2018-2019 season the coveted shirt has been handed to 20 year old Eberechi Eze and, to probably 99% of Rangers supporters, quite rightly so. Released by Millwall as a youngster, he came to Rangers and then spent the first few months of last season on loan at Wycombe Wanderers, under the expert tutelage of former Ranger Gareth Ainsworth, and when he returned in January, he more than proved that he could cut it in the Championship.
The boy is absolute class and he has an air about him. He is light on his feet and he springs across the turf effortlessly and he makes the game look easy. He is two footed, has an eye for goal and Rangers need to ensure that he gets as much of the ball as possible for he makes things happen. He is not the fastest but has a sharp turn of pace and can both glide past and dance round opponents with his quick feet.
He is potentially world class and it is rare to be able to say that about a Rangers player, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves for he has to prove his worth week in, week out in the tough environment of Championship football and that will be far from easy. Then and only then can he be considered in the same breath as some of the other Rangers number 10’s listed above.
A realistic expectation for such a young and largely inexperienced squad would be a comfortable finish around mid table, with those who dare to dream perhaps hoping for a play off push. The more pessimistic would envisage a season long struggle in the lower reaches and, god forbid……
What can be said is that this squad contains much promise and hope, arguably more so than for many a year. Supporters always resonate with players who have come through a club’s youth system and this is very much the case for many of Rangers’ young guns, so they should be given a little slack if things do not go quite according to plan.
Furthermore, if these youngsters, particularly the likes of Furlong, Kakay, Chair, Smyth, Manning, Osayi-Samuel and Eze, who have now had a flavour of Championship football, can raise their games to another level, and continue to successfully blend in with the slightly older heads, such as Lynch, Bidwell, Luongo, Freeman, Scowen and Smith, then the future may be bright. It could be fun finding out.