QPR provide more easy pickings for Michu and his Swans – full match report
Monday, 11th Feb 2013 19:55 by Clive Whittingham
Swansea City taught QPR a few footballing lessons at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday, running out comfortable winners against the R’s for the second time this season.
A little over two years ago Adel Taarabt scored a goal against Swansea City the likes of which I’d never seen before and very much doubt I will ever have the fortune to clap eyes on again. It began with an arrogant back flick to Kyle Walker, involved an outrageous nutmeg through Joe Allen who has since cost Liverpool the best part of £15m, and was finished into the far corner from 25 yards out as if he was rolling the ball into an empty net from three feet away.
It was a goal in the finest QPR traditions of Stan Bowles and Rodney Marsh and it was the fourth one the R’s scored that Boxing Day, adding impressive frosting to an already glorious cake. QPR were top of the Championship having gone through the first 19 matches of the season without a defeat, and were playing football their long suffering supporters thought they’d never get to see from their team again.
Since that 4-0 win the R’s have signed 32 players, sold or released 26, been involved in 13 senior loan deals in or out, sacked two managers and had one boardroom takeover. Swansea have been involved in 16 fewer player transactions, from which they’ve turned a large profit, and replaced one manager after he was poached by a bigger club. They have progressed in every single way as a club and a team while Queens Park Rangers are a shadow of their former selves. Swansea won promotion to the Premier League via the play offs while QPR went up as champions, 18 months later and the Welsh side are seventh in the top flight and heading to a League Cup final while Rangers are surely set to return to the league below.
On Saturday Rangers met Swansea again and were beaten 4-1, to go with the 5-0 drubbing they received from the same opponents on the opening day of the season. The R’s have scored eight goals at Loftus Road this season in 13 matches – Swansea have now put nine through them in 180 minutes.
This time Taarabt was coiled in anger and frustration. Marooned alone up front in an overrun 4-5-1 formation during the first half he was immediately surrounded on the rare occasions he did receive possession as Swansea quickly came to grips with the idea that QPR's threat was carried by one man alone. Rangers’ tactics, if they were advanced enough to be described in such terms, were similar to those employed by the national Rugby League side in this part of the world when Iestyn Harris was in his prime: you, win this game for us.
The R's were easier to read than a copy of the Beano. Ashley Williams, the home team's dominant centre half, could have played in a club suit and his manager Michael Laudrup will lament a serious looking injury to his partner Chico Flores, stretchered off after half an hour just a fortnight before the Welsh side's League Cup final appearance in a game he needn't really have got involved with at all. By half time QPR had failed to register a single shot on or off target.
Taarabt threw his arms in the air, but in frustration and exasperation rather than arrogance as has maybe been the case in the past. At the end of the first half he was lucky to only be booked after an altercation with Jonathan De Guzman, although referee Neil Swarbrick had sparked the incident by harshly penalising the QPR man in the first place.
It's increasingly hard to disagree with Glenn Hoddle's assertion that the time for the matured Moroccan to move on has come – he needs to be playing with better players.
Filling his Tormenter in Chief role here was Swansea 's Spanish striker Michu. Languid, laidback, likeable – signed for £2.5m at the same time QPR were agreeing a deal potentially worth twice that for the permanently spent force of Ji-Sung Park . Michu spent the afternoon drifting silently away from Chris Samba, a centre half who cost QPR about as much as the entire Swansea team put together. In the sixty seventh minute Samba allowed Michu to run in on the goal side and slide a cool finish beyond Julio Cesar and into the far corner. That made it 4-1.
In small defence of Samba he'd been tiptoeing around on a yellow card from the tenth minute when Swarbrick amazingly decided that a shoulder charge challenge on Michu was not only worth a free kick, but warranted a yellow card as well. But overall it was amazing how little difference the Congo centre half made to Rangers here.
Earlier Michu timed a run perfectly so that when Cesar parried a low shot from the unattended Nathan Dyer back into the danger area, rather than holding the ball or palming it wide, he was perfectly placed to seize on the chance and bounce the ball into the ground, over the goalkeeper and into the net. A miscue no doubt, but given the lack of defensive attention on either him or Dyer he had plenty of time to do whatever he liked with the situation. The whole thing had grown from QPR playing themselves into trouble in the right back slot when Cesar played a lousy pass to Onuoha and he could do little other than gift the home team a throw in an attacking position.
After the match Michu admitted that he prefers to play in the supporting role behind a centre forward, rather than leading the line himself, because it gives him the element of surprise. No surprise required in this game – it was like shelling peas. They were Michu's seventeenth and eighteenth goals of the season, and his third and fourth against QPR this campaign, accounting for half the damage done on the day.
But you don't beat QPR with individuals. Manchester City and Chelsea have the finest individuals foreign oil can buy but both recently failed to penetrate the same side Swansea seemed capable of carving apart at will. You beat QPR with a plan, with a system, with an ethos. When faced with a bunch of talented individuals QPR clam up, they defend deeply and narrowly, they absorb what comes their way. When playing against a well oiled machine, where every player knows his job, they capitulate.
West Ham's game plan is so different to Swansea's it's difficult to believe they're playing the same sport – but it is a plan all the same. The Hammers line up in a 4-3-3 system they've been playing for the best part of two years where everybody knows his role and when injuries occur a player who also knows the role comes in as a replacement. When the ball is punted long to Andy Carroll – as it frequently is – he knows where Matt Jarvis and Matt Taylor and Kevin Nolan are and they know what he's going to try and do with the ball. Swansea are far more palatable and easy on the eye, but it's based on the same principal of working on a system over a prolonged period of time, ingraining an ethos within the playing staff, and then only making a signing when a player becomes available at the right price who can fit into both.
Michu is playing up front because Swansea sold Danny Graham in the January transfer window without adequately replacing him. For a club on the cusp of European qualification and heading into a major cup final it seems like folly. QPR would laugh at the idea. But Swansea were offered what they believed was a fair price for Graham, and were then quoted something they weren't willing to pay for his potential replacements, so they sold him and will wait to sail the calmer waters of the summer market to hunt for somebody else. QPR would have paid whatever Stoke wanted for Kenwyne Jones, and sent the chairman up to The Britannia for a game of Fifa while the finer points of a £50,000 a week contract were thrashed out. Swansea asked Stoke about their striker, heard the going rate, and decided it wasn't for them. The team, the plan, the ethos – more important and much more effective than the individual. They may suffer in the short term for relying solely on Michu to lead their line, but it's all about the long term in this part of the world.
Shape and players knowing their jobs is more than enough to take QPR apart. As well as scoring twice before half time the Swans had another Michu shot bobble through to Cesar, and a snap effort on the turn deflect over after Onuoha had conceded possession in a bad area. From that corner Nathan Dyer chipped an inch or two over the bar. After the break Rangers gave the ball away in their own penalty area and Ki forced a save from Cesar. Swansea played in third gear for an hour, and less than that thereafter, and won with considerable ease. It resembled a training exercise.
QPR's chief executive Philip Beard defended the actions of his club at a fans forum prior to this game. "We've had to re-engineer a club over three transfer windows," he said. If that was the case, and the contrast in the games against Swansea from 2010/11 to this season suggests it wasn't, then he and the rest of the board have been sadly mistaken in what building a football club, or even a team, actually entails.
Here the R's fielded a midfield five of Jamie Mackie, Jermaine Jenas, Shaun Derry, Stephane Mbia and Andros Townsend strung out across the middle of the field like a line of washing. Save for the occasional enterprising run and cross into an empty penalty area from Townsend, not a single one of them had any positive influence on the game whatsoever. There was no physical presence, no hard running, no ability to control possession – the five of them were amateurish for the vast majority of the game. At full time Mbia came to the QPR fans to hand his shirt over as he does most weeks, but became confused and ended up entering a home section and treating a Swansea fan to the gift by mistake. It rather summed it all up.
Presumably Harry Redknapp's half time discussion was a real bell ringer. He made two changes immediately, replacing Mackie and Derry with Bobby Zamora and Esteban Granero. Zamora immediately reduced the deficit from two to one with a low shot into an unguarded Swansea goal after goalkeeper Michel Vorm had parried a shot from Adel Taarabt that he, like Cesar earlier, should have done better with. Vorm at least had the excuse of being cold and out of practice after a first half in which he'd been called upon for foot work only.
Zamora made a difference to Rangers, adding presence and ability in the final third to at least give Taarabt room to breathe and a chance to receive possession he could do something with. Fifteen minutes from time the Moroccan curled just wide from long range. Granero also added something to a midfield previously bereft of anything useful whatsoever. Late in the day he combined with Zamora to produce an eye catching ball in behind the Swansea defence that gave another substitute Shaun Wright-Phillips a chance to rattle the home team's crossbar. A 4-2 defeat would have flattered Rangers.
But Zamora can only play a half at a time, and was feeling his troublesome hip after 20 minutes. He completed a spine of the team that included Cesar who was apparently playing injured – perhaps explaining a rare collapse in personal form – Chris Samba who estimates he is at 40% and Jermaine Jenas who has barely played a senior football game for two years and certainly showed that here with an anonymous display. Rangers fielded two injured players, and two partially fit ones, for the second half here lining up right down the middle of the team. It's hard to imagine Michael Laudrup doing the same thing, or his chairman Huw Jenkins allowing a situation where players like Ale Faurlin, DJ Campbell and Djibril Cisse are out on loan while the club that owns them and pays their wages labours without adequate replacements for any of them.
Zamora's goal was in vain. Within three minutes Pablo Hernandez had skipped around three pathetic challenges – Nedum Onuoha particularly culpable – and slid a ball in from an impossible angle that Cesar should never have beaten from. That was almost as easy as Angel Rangel's goal, after 18 minutes to double the Swans' lead, which he scored after ghosting in from the right unchecked onto an incisive through ball from Wayne Routledge and being allowed the time for two attempts on the goal after Cesar had parried his first effort.
For Harry Redknapp frustration and confusion must reign. How can a defence that stood up so stoutly to recent onslaughts from the likes of Sergio Aguero and Eden Hazard suddenly implode so spectacularly? It's happened too often this season to be written off as a simple bad day at the office. Redknapp, a short term appointment for a desperate situation, will study video tape and talk about individual mistakes. In actual fact the various disasters QPR are inflicting on themselves this season is part of a problem far wider than who should be marking who.
The only time Rangers did really compete was just before the hour when, enraged by Swarbrick inexplicably failing to spot centre half Williams raising his right arm and fisting a cross away from deep inside his own penalty area, the R’s then refused to kick the ball out so Hernandez could be treated at the far end of the field. The referee should have awarded the penalty, and could have then stopped the play for the injury, but played on through both summing up a poor individual performance first and foremost, and then a cavalier attitude to game management. Sure enough a slew of nasty tackles flew in one after the other until, within the space of a minute, he'd lost control of the game entirely. That Mbia had a shot cleared from the line immediately after Williams’ unspotted indiscretion only made things harder to bear for the visitors.
A sense of injustice, an injection of passion, a collective anger – it could all have been what QPR needed to fire them into a proper, committed chase of the 3-1 deficit. But play restarted, and the game continued as it had before as if nothing had happened – Cesar was forced into another save almost immediately to deny Hernandez and then Michu added the fourth.
Rangers were improved for their half time changes, but Swansea were almost asleep at the wheel. They added a fourth when the mood took them. Rangers' cheap looking sky blue away kit may as well have been a rubber gimp suit for all the resistance they put up. Rarely has a team had to do so little to score four times in a match.
If this is a re-engineered football club I'd question the mechanics involved in the work.
Swansea: Vorm 5, Rangel 7, Chico 6 (Bartley 33, 6), Williams 7, Davies 7, De Guzman 7, Ki 6, Hernandez 7, Dyer 7, Routledge 7 (Agustien 62, 6), Michu 8 (Moore 80, -)
Subs not used: Tremmel, Tiandalli, Lamah, Shechter
Goals: Michu 8 (assiste Dyer), 67 (assisted Hernandez), Rangel 18 (assisted Routledge), Hernandez 50 (assisted Michu)
Bookings: Davies 45 (foul)
QPR: Cesar 4, Onuoha 3, Samba 3, Hill 3, Traore 3, Derry 3 (Granero 46, 6), Jenas 3 (Wright-Phillips 69, 6), Mbia 4, Townsend 5, Mackie 4 (Zamora 46, 7), Taarabt 5
Subs not used: Green, Ben Haim, Park, Bothroyd
Goals: Zamora 48 (assisted Taarabt)
Bookings: Samba 9 (foul), Taarabt 39 (foul) Traore 45 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Bobby Zamora 7 Tempting not to give a Star Man award at all to be hnest but Zamora made a difference when he came on, scored a nicely taken goal and can at leats hold his head up high for his contribution.
Referee – Neil Swarbrick (Lancashire) 3 Not a referee who has adapted to the demands of the Premier League terribly well in my opinion. Very harshly yellow carded Samba after nine minutes, then allowed a load of similar challenges to go unpunished before suddenly booking two players in first half stoppage time. His biggest decision in the game was the QPR penalty appeal which he got wrong and he quickly allowed that situation to escalate into one where a Swansea player was down injured and nasty tackles were flying in left and right as a result. Big decisions wrong, game management poor, lack of consistency in decision making – impossible to give a particularly high mark those things considered.
Attendance – 20,529 (1,100 QPR) A decent atmosphere inside the Liberty Stadium as usual – the home fans have plenty to be happy about. QPR sold all their tickets despite everything but had little to cheer. Special mention to the Rangers fan sitting in front of us who turned round and told another QPR fan who said he found the performance “embarrassing” to “piss off home if you don’t like it then”. Nothing like being in this together.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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