Editor’s note: please don’t be startled at the lack of Arsenal content in this post – there’s an Arsenal player in the picture so I hope that appeases anyone who is angry (who would get angry at a temporary change in focus though?) – but I did warn you all that it was coming. Don’t worry though, I’ll be back to discussing things like the importance of Mikel Arteta in no time.
Infrequent observers of Reading, the newest additions to the Barclays Premier League (no, I’m not trying to be Owen Coyle), would suggest that, seeing as Russian millionaire Anton Zingarevich is set to take control of the club at the end of the season, the Royals will spend big this summer as they prepare for the trials and tribulations of England’s top tier. This, however, is not the case.
Ex-Gunner (see? There’s a bit of Arsenal sprinkled in) Brian McDermott’s side are built around the idea of team spirit, and certainly showcased it in bundles during and at the culmination of their second-half surge to the peak of the Championship. There are no particular stand-out players, but they are instead a group of players who fit together extremely well. The signing of Jason Roberts was perhaps the catalyst for their remarkable run, but they are by no means a one-man team.
Last season the teams who were automatically promoted were Norwich and QPR, the latter going up as champions. Those who prefer to take a simplistic view on things would have predicted that QPR, having finished higher in the Championship, would also fare better in the division above. I, and also those with good footballing prediction instincts (not unlike those of Paul the octopus, God rest his tentacles), went the other way, tipping QPR for the drop, thinking they’d be the only promoted side to go down.
And that’s the way it looks like going. Norwich, and Swansea too, are fairly clear of trouble, while QPR have been languishing in and around the drop zone for most of the season. The Hoops, like Reading soon will, have millionaire owners, and attempted to bolster their squad and in turn their hopes for survival, by buying several well-known Premier League players; Shaun Wright-Phillips and Joey Barton to name two, before the additions of Djibril Cisse and Bobby Zamora in January.
Norwich were much more modest and prudent with their business. They signed Elliott Bennett, Steve Morison, Bradley Johnson, James Vaughan, Kyle Naughton (on loan) and Anthony Pilkington, before also adding Jonny Howson in January. While none of these signings were particularly eye-catching, they all fitted seamlessly into the Norwich side, and didn’t disrupt the harmony of the squad.
It would be difficult to say the same of the QPR new boys. Barton brought with him lots of media attention and an apparent hobby of being a moron. They also seemed to struggle to fit the rest of their new players into the side – Wright-Phillips has seemed hit and miss, and with Zamora and Cisse being added to the ranks, the Rs have a surplus of strikers, a few of whom must not be happy at their lack of game time.
This apparent lack of harmony within the squad does not seem limited to the playing staff – Barton caused a significant rift between the players and the fans, which certainly didn’t help the club. While they have claimed several scalps – including Arsenal’s – their inconsistency has cost them, in particular their inability to win the so-called six-pointers.
Norwich, on the other hand, have few relegation worries as they enter the remnant of the Premier League season. Like Reading they have few spectacular players – although Grant Holt often single-handedly carries the goal-scoring burden, as Roberts occasionally has in his brief spell at the Madejski – yet the strong team ethic is clearly visible, and leads to consistent results. Paul Lambert has recently come in for increased praise, and it’s all deserved; he’s used his resources well, and built a good team.
While the Canaries had limited resources, you can’t help but feel that QPR spent because they felt they had to. This, of course, was not the case, as shown by Norwich, but their spending spree may well have contributed to their downfall.
The difference, however, is that Reading will have the resources that QPR chose to utilise to the full (if not efficiently/effectively), unlike Norwich, who probably wouldn’t have been able to spend if they had wanted to. Brian McDermott will have to resist the temptation to delve too deeply into Zingarevich’s pocket, and you get the sense that he will. Kaspars Gorkss, along with the permanent signing of Mikele Leigertwood, both from QPR, were the only additions in the summer, before a late trolley dash in January to secure the signings of Roberts, Tomasz Cywka, Hayden Mullins and Matthew Connolly, the latter two being on loan.
Other than Roberts, who forced his way into the side after an impressive start, none of the January signings have been regular fixtures in the Reading side, pointing towards a reluctance on McDermott’s part to disrupt his side’s good form. Unless the Royals’ form dips dramatically in the final straight (perhaps more of a canter for the Berkshire club considering their newly-acquired Premier League status) it’s difficult to imagine them changing the look of their first choice eleven in the summer.
Squad depth is the only potential issue, and already targets have been speculated about – for one, Kevin Doyle, who played for Reading for four years before joining apparently-doomed Wolves. A player of Doyle’s calibre would certainly add to the quality in the ranks at the Mad Stad, and also knows the club well, so the pros of a move are there for all to see.
Whoever Reading do sign, they should be a welcome addition to the Premier League. McDermott has them playing attractive football, and they’re an ambitious, humble club. Norwich have set the benchmark this season with an impressive year – it’s time for the Royals to test their mettle.
I’m happy to welcome a new columnist to Chronicles of Almunia – Saurabh will be writing regular scout reports on our next opponents, starting with QPR. Over to you sir.
This weekend, the boys travel across London to Loftus Road, home of Queens Park Rangers. QPR have undergone a transformation under new owner Tony Fernandes. In their return to the Premier League they have spent big money in acquiring the individual talent that you would think could keep them in the top flight.
Instead, they find themselves firmly in the relegation and only 8 matches to claw their way out of danger. The fans are understandably frustrated as even with the money that has been poured into the club, they still find themselves in trouble while Norwich and Swansea are comfortably up the table and playing some great football.
QPR have come off a big loss against Sunderland, while completing a brilliant (and hilarious) comeback against Liverpool just days earlier. The games showcased the best and worst of this QPR side and both matches were analysed to put together this scouting report.
QPR play a fairly simple 4-4-2, a formation we have had much success against. It would be very easy for a 3 man midfield to overpower the opposition, especially the way the QPR midfield moves. Samba Diakite has a more defensive role and drops deeper while Shaun Derry plays in a more box to box role. This leaves a large area in the middle that a counter attacking team like Arsenal could really take advantage of.
QPR are a side that have shown such vulnerability match after match. So much show that it should be a fairly straightforward victory for Arsenal. The team’s greatest weakness is the gaps they leave when moving forward. That lack of cover has led to QPR conceding a fair amount of goals as Anton Ferdinand and Nedum Onuoha are left completely exposed.
The suspension of Djibril Cisse could add a level of stability however. Having Taarabt on the left wing would have left a lot of space to be exploited since it’s a bit harder to do stepovers while tracking back. Instead, we’ll most likely see Taarabt fall in behind Zamora with Shaun Wright-Phillips coming in on the wing.
On the off chance that Taarabt still starts on the wing, it would make things a lot easier for Arsenal. He plays a free role and spends most of his time behind the strikers. All that does is pull his teammates out of position, whether it’s the right back trying to cover the gap he’s left or one of the strikers forced out wide to give QPR another option in attack.
The pressure on the ball is very lax and apart from the center back pairing of Ferdinand and Onuoha, no one closes down opposition players. This should allow players like Arteta time to pick out perfect passes. It will be difficult for Van Persie to play with his back to goal though and we should expect to see a lot of play from out wide. It would be ideal for Ox to start out on the left as his pace would cause major problems for Luke Young. It would draw Barton further back in an attempt to stop him too and give Gibbs the license to go forward a lot more.
There are several dangermen in this QPR side. Joey Barton and Bobby Zamora primarily.
Arsenal has quite a past with Barton. If he has one skill, it’s winding up opposition players. He managed to get Gervinho sent off in the opening match of the season and is very capable of doing it again. It could get very heated if Barton does start the match on Saturday and we’ll definitely see some handbags.
The other threat is Bobby Zamora who is QPR’s main target man with the absence of Cisse. It should be easy to isolate him as QPR like to get as many men behind the ball as possible during periods of pressure, leaving Zamora alone up front. The marking will need to be very tight on him from set pieces as his height will no doubt cause problems.
Paddy Kenny is also a very good goalkeeper and even though his defence doesn’t do him justice he’s a player that could take some work to beat.
The Weak Link
Samba Diakite has failed to impress in the few months since his arrival at the club and struggles to really control his area of the field. He makes silly fouls and finds himself out of position on several occasions, leaving his backline exposed. He has the highest pass completion rate in the QPR squad but can be prone to misplacing several passes when the opposition overwhelms him.
Boxing him out from the rest of his team will leave gaps for the Arsenal midfield to move into.
The West London club hasn’t managed to keep a clean sheet in the league since October and are one of the lowest scoring teams in the league. Even though the atmosphere and pitch at Loftus Road may pose problems for the away team, it should be a fair easy victory against a relegation threatened side.