End of Term Report 17/18 – Midfielders
Monday, 4th Jun 2018 11:01 by Clive Whittingham
The penultimate part of our round up looks at the midfielders - or rather the three outstanding players this season and a collection of others trying to fit into the system around them.
7 – Luke Freeman A
My Player of the Year, which will be backed up by the numbers shortly. That he didn’t win the official one, I believe, shows the inherent bias in the vote towards players that finish the season strongly against those who were good for the first three quarters of the campaign. Freeman, finally, after more than a year of consistent brilliance, did tail off towards the end of 2017/18, but he carried the side through the tough winter months.
The change of formation benefited the team and most of the players in it but it didn’t do much for Lukey, moving him out of his freer, central, ‘ten’ position and pressing him into a more regimented, wider role which he’d been used in by Bristol City to no great effect. He frequently holds onto the ball too long, a particular problem in the spring when he had the pace of Paul Smyth and Bright Osayi-Samuel ahead of him screaming for early service. He gets frustrated easily, which manifests itself in a high number of yellow cards, times in games when he seems to deliberately not to pass to people who have ‘wronged’ him (Pawel Wszolek seems to suffer this more than most), and those child-like tantrums he has where he flaps his arms around and squawks at everybody like a big pink penguin.
But overall it has been a spectacularly successful first 18 months at Loftus Road for Freeman. We’ve got him down for more assists than the official league figures – if a Freeman corner is nodded down by Smith for somebody to score then we tend to give the assist to both Freeman and Smith, hence the discrepancy and high total of 18. But even under the tougher, official standards he was still only behind the excellent pair of Jota and Douglas at Wolves for goals created this year – they had him down for 12 which seems harsh and low when you watch the videos back. Given how tough QPR found it to score, the poor quality of strikers he’s servicing, and how much of a struggle the season was through the middle months, I think that’s remarkable whichever number you use. Could do with a few more goals – he missed some sitters early doors, most annoyingly straight after we’d fallen behind at Norwich in August – but he has chipped in with some, mostly very good, strikes along the way.
QPR had two chronic problems before he arrived which his signing has gone a long way to solving. Firstly, we’re dangerous from set pieces now. After years and years of watching St Joey selfishly hog and, almost without exception, waste every attacking set piece we had, we now look highly threatening from corners especially. Secondly, goals from central midfield. We scored just two of those in 2015/16 (Tozser v Shef Wed, Henry v Bristol City) and prior to Freeman’s arrival in January 2017 we were stuck on nought for that season. Now here we are with Freeman, Manning, Luongo and Scowen contributing 14 between them. We’ve gone from having a pedestrian, slow, turgid centre of our team to a genuinely dynamic one which is great to watch when it’s on song (Burton away this year was particularly good) and around which the team can revolve.
Freeman has led that revolution from the front. He’s strong, determined, excellent on the ball, brilliant in tight spaces and a real favourite of mine.
45 starts, 2 sub appearances, W16 D11 L20 (appearances of less than 10 minutes don’t count in WDL)
5 goals (Ipswich H, Barnsley A, Brentford H, Sheff Utd A, Villa A), 18 assists (Northampton H, Sheff Wed A, Hull H, Cardiff A, Millwall H, Boro A, Sunderland A, Bolton A, Villa H, Brentford H, Birmingham A, Birmingham A, Bristol City H, Burton A, Forest H, Derby H, Fulham A, Birmingham H)
10 yellow cards (foul, foul, foul, foul, foul, foul, retaliation, foul, foul, foul)
7 LFW MOTM Awards (Sheff Wed A, Barnsley A, Bolton A, Ipswich A, Millwall A, MK Dons H, Sheff Utd A)
LFW Ratings – 8, 6, 7, 6, 6, 6, 8, 8, 6, 7, 7, 7, 6, 7, 7, 7, 7, 5, 6, 5, 6, 6, 7, 8, 8, 6, 7, 6, 7, 5, 5, 6, 5, 6, 6, 5, 7, 5, 7, 6, 7, 7, 6, 5, 5, 8, 6 = 6.38
Interactive Ratings – 6.26
8 – Jordan Cousins C/D
A stop-start Rangers career continued to stop and start throughout 2017/18 and Jordan is now facing a very big year ahead trying to reignite that potential we saw in him at Charlton. I rated him as pound for pound the best signing made by a Championship club two summers ago, which basically sounded the death knell for his time at Loftus Road right then and there. He’s since suffered with one of those muscle-off-the-bone injuries which also afflicted Jack Robinson and a series of niggling hamstring and calf complaints have continued to hinder him this season – as they did Robinson for two years after the initial problem.
When he was fit to play he found – like Ryan Manning, Pawel Wszolek, David Wheeler and others – that the 3-5-2 formation designed to get Luongo-Scowen-Freeman playing together didn’t leave much room for anybody else of a central midfield persuasion and so he was pressed into action at right wing back, with no great success (although he did play there in the home win against Wolves). When finally used in a better formation and the correct position I thought we finally saw 30 minutes of the Jordan Cousins I thought we’d signed, at Fulham away, but that’s the first time he’s played like that in our colours and it’s a massive year ahead if he’s to make a go of it here. No goals and no assists, even allowing for his use at right wing back, is fairly pathetic and in true QPR style the last senior goal he scored remains the one for Charlton against us three seasons ago.
With several bright youngsters coming through and further crowding the area of the pitch he wants to play in, I’m starting to get the feeling that he’s going to need a Luongo or Freeman-type to get bought to get a proper chance, or leave the club himself. But then, he’d have to stay fit for a few weeks at a time to do either of those.
14 starts, 2 sub appearances, W6 D3 L7
0 goals, 0 assists
6 conceded and 1 clean sheet when at wing back
4 yellow cards (foul, foul, foul, foul)
0 LFW MOTM Awards
LFW Ratings – 6, 5, 6, 5, 6, 5, 7, 5, 6, 3, 6, 7, 6, 7, 5, 4 = 5.56
Interactive Ratings – 5.39
11 – Josh Scowen A
Yes. Yes yes yes. A QPR signing. This is what they should look like. Nobody’s ever heard of him, he’s cheap (free in this case), he’s young (24 when he signed) but also experienced (206 professional appearances for Wycombe and Barnsley). When asked to describe himself as a player he says “a bit of a rat”. Love it, love him. Grounded. No airs and graces. Humble lad, London lad, family man, loves his mum, sees QPR as a big move for him. And, as it turns out, very tidy little player indeed. Perfect.
The arrival of Scowen, and the way he was able to just slot straight into the team and punch out 43 very consistent performances as if he’d been here his whole life, addressed two important issues. The first was our inability to win games last season without Grant Hall in the team, sitting deep in midfield and protecting the defence. In 2016 QPR won 13 and drew seven of 34 with Hall, without him they lost nine of 12 including seven of the last eight games of the season. As we know, Hall was only fit enough to start one match in 2017/18 but Scowen excelled in his position and meant it wasn’t an issue. The second, as discussed in Luke Freeman’s assessment, was the lack of goals from central midfield. Two in 2015/16, four in 2016/17 (eight if you count Tjaronn Chery as a central midfielder, which I don’t), and then suddenly 14 in 2017/18. Scowen may have only contributed one to that himself – albeit the Goal of the Season against Barnsley – and that needs to improve, particularly as he tends to have a shot with a lot of our free kicks, but his ratting has freed up Freeman and particularly Mass Luongo to be more attacking further up the pitch. It’s benefited Luongo most palpably, who’s gone from two goals in 85 QPR appearances to five in 15.
I do think we rather flogged him to death, and perhaps could have used Ryan Manning a little more through the winter months to protect him from the fatigue that crept into his game in the second half of the season – a sending off at Ipswich during the hectic Christmas schedule came from a tired tackle. Overall though, fantastic, and very close to Freeman in the Player of the Year voting for me.
It was this signing, and the scouting behind it that meant we knew all about his style of play, personality, contract situation, where he would fit in the team, that gave the strongest argument for Ian Holloway to carry on next season. With several big earners out of contract this summer budget has been freed up for three or four more signings like this one – Olly was talking as far back as a year ago about the opportunity we would have coming up as historic deals came to an end and how excited he was about what he and Gary Penrice would be able to do with that freed up budget. Penrice, thankfully, remains despite Holloway’s departure so fingers crossed that plan continues and we do find a couple more Scowen-types out there for the centre of defence and the attack.
43 starts, 0 sub appearances, W15 D10 L17
1 goal (Barnsley H), 0 assists
12 yellow cards (foul, foul, foul, foul, kicking ball away, foul, foul, foul, foul, foul, foul, foul), 1 red card (Ipswich A, two yellows, kicking ball away, foul)
5 LFW MOTM Awards (Reading H, Hull H, Burton H, Sunderland A, Barnsley H)
LFW Ratings – 8, 7, 6, 7, 7, 8, 6, 8, 7, 6, 8, 6, 8, 7, 5, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, 7, 6, 6, 6, 5, 7, 5, 5, 7, 7, 6, 5, 3, 6, 6, 8, 6, 8, 6, 5, 7, 6 = 6.35
Interactive Ratings – 6.21
14 – Ryan Manning C
Suspect this will be a running theme through this piece, but Ryan Manning was another player who suffered for the wing back system. Ian Holloway’s – entirely correct – desire to get Freeman-Scowen-Luongo together as a central three created problems elsewhere, and left little room for people like Manning or Jordan Cousins to play games in their correct position. Given how knackered those three looked at times towards the end of the campaign, and how much better the four at the back worked than the three, perhaps it might have been prudent to not flog them and the shape to death for quite so long. Could Manning have spelled Scowen a little more? It was a waste to see him playing quite so little football in the first few months after such a big breakout year the season before.
I did wonder whether Ryan might be a good option at left wing back, but his outings there in early cup games were not a conspicuous success. I agreed with Holloway’s early assessment that he was perhaps “over complicating things” a bit and needed to get back to the basics that had made him such an asset in the second half of 2016/17. He played well away at Middlesbrough, but a lack of opportunities only exacerbated the ‘trying too hard’ problem and when he came on to shore things up in a narrow home win against Barnsley he was almost immediately sent off for killing a man to death.
When the formation changed towards the end of the season and Manning was able to get good game time in the correct position, and kept it simple, he looked very good again and scored two lovely headed goals in wins against Villa and Norwich. I think he’s a great player, one we’ve underused this season, and I look forward to seeing how he does with the new management.
12 starts, 9 sub appearances, W6 D4 L7
2 goals (Villa A, Norwich H), 1 assist (Preston H)
5 conceded and 1 clean sheet when at wing back
3 yellow cards (foul, foul, foul), 1 red card (Barnsley H, serious foul play)
1 LFW MOTM Award (Leeds A)
LFW Ratings – 5, 6, 6, 7, 6, 6, -, 5, 5, -, -, -, 8, 6, 7, 7, 6, 6, 7, 6 = 6.18
Interactive Ratings – 5.54
21 – Massimo Luongo A
The best thing to come out of Australia since Mick Dundee. Certainly for QPR, who have struggled with players from Down Under in the past – Ned Zelic, of course, infamously the first and only Australian to date who couldn’t settle in West London.
Initially it looked like Mass may follow the likes of Zelic and Nick Ward into the Rangers rejects pile. Bought as an attacking midfielder, who scored regularly for his country and got 13 goals in 84 league starts for Swindon, he managed just two in his first 85 appearances at QPR. His critics wondered exactly what he did, as a midfielder that didn’t seem particularly defensive but also didn’t pose a goal threat going the other way. Consistently leading the division in successful tackles and interceptions didn’t quite cut it. This season, especially the second half of this season, he really kicked on, scoring five times in the final 15 games of the campaign including a particularly nice volleyed effort at Fulham.
Freed up by the arrival of Josh Scowen and noticeably keener to get his arse into the penalty box a lot more, Luongo looked a high quality player coming down the home straight of 2017/18 and he goes to the World Cup playing, in his estimation, the best football of his career. I personally went for Freeman as Player of the Year, but Luongo took the fans’ award and it’s hard to begrudge him that.
Whoever would have thought that by giving a 22-year-old stepping up from League One a couple of seasons to find his feet at a new club and higher level, showing a bit of patience and doing a bit of coaching rather than just bombing him out after a few months, we’d end up with a sought after, sellable 25-year-old asset? I am shocked. Shocked.
38 starts, 1 sub appearance, W12 D10 L16
6 goals (Millwall H, Burton A, Forest H, Derby H, Fulham A, Norwich H), 2 assists (Wolves H, Brentford A)
10 yellow cards (foul, foul, foul, foul, foul, foul, foul, foul, unsporting, foul)
4 LFW MOTM Award (Ipswich H, Boro A, Wolves H, Burton A)
LFW Ratings – 8, 7, 6, 7, 7, 8, 6, 8, 6, 6, 7, 6, 8, 7, 5, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, 5, 6, 8, 5, 5, 6, 5, 3, 6, 6, 7, 6, 6, 8, 5, 6 = 6.23
Interactive Ratings – 6.30
22 - Pawel Wszolek C
A really frustrating season for Pawel, culminating in him missing the Poland squad for the World Cup. I can’t imagine he regards Ian Holloway too fondly for his role in that, having been forced to play out of position at wing back for the vast majority of the season, something which didn’t suit the player and visibly drained him of confidence the longer it went on. In 2016/17 I would often comment on the intelligence of his final ball, picking players out in the box rather than just slinging it into areas – best example being Jamie Mackie’s goal at Reading. By the end of 2017/18 he was barely slinging it anywhere – his crossing had gone completely to shit by the time he turned in another poor display at Leeds on the final day, again when selected out of position at full back. He assisted both goals in the opening day win against Reading, then only got two more assists in the whole of the rest of the season. Three of the four came in August, and he scored only twice, one off a goalkeeping error against Leeds and one a defensive error at Fulham.
He’s a bit of a weird one Wszolek, in that we’re two years into his time at QPR now and I’m still not convinced whether he’s any good or not. He has an odd, limping, waddling gait which constantly makes it look like he’s injured, which adds to the confusion I think. But we saw at Fulham in the 2-2 draw, when he was superb and scored the equaliser, what a decent player he can be when used correctly. Where he fits into the squad moving forwards, with several of the most promising younger players playing in his position, remains to be seen but I hope and pray it’s not at bloody full back any more.
29 starts, 9 sub appearances, W9 D11 L15
2 goals (Leeds H, Fulham A), 4 assists (Reading H, Reading H, Ipswich H, Villa A)
24 conceded, 4 clean sheets (when at wing back)
2 yellow cards (foul, foul)
1 LFW MOTM Award (Fulham A)
LFW Ratings – 8, 7, 5, 6, 5, 6, 7, 6, 6, 5, 4, 6, 6, 6, 6, 5, 5, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, 5, 6, 6, 6, 5, 4, 6, 7, 8, 6, -, 6, 5, 5 = 5.82
Interactive Ratings – 6.02
30 - Ebere Eze A/B
One of the board’s desires, and reasons for changing manager again, is to see the young talent the club is now producing really developed and pushed onto the next level. That’s why they’ve gone for somebody with a reputation as a good coach first and foremost, in Steve McClaren. But to suggest that there was no player development during Ian Holloway’s reign is entirely wrong. Several senior players improved their games from what they were before under him – Hall, Luongo, Freeman, Smith – while a number of youngsters were brought on and blooded successfully into the first team. None more so than Ebere Eze who had a highly successful loan spell with Wycombe in the first half of the season to “knock a few edges off” and was then brought back in January when it would have been easy to leave him at Adams Park and eased into our first team almost seamlessly. He scored his first senior goals against Sunderland and Norwich and his performances against the Canaries and Villa in particular were startlingly good for a player of his age and experience. This is a lad released from the Millwall academy, dominating and having fun at Villa Park on a Tuesday night.
Might not make it. Ian Holloway going from comparing him to Stan Bowles one week to slagging off his defensive work the next typified the manager’s erratic nature that eventually cost him his job, but he is right that there is almost zero defensive nous in Eze’s game at all and we’re not in a position to be carrying a luxury player like that. Overall though, tremendously exciting, with an eye for a spectacular goal as we saw at Cambridge during his loan spell, and good upper body strength when on the ball. Preston, in the end, had to take to making attempts on his life to get the ball back off him, aided and abetted by one of the weirdest refereeing displays I’ve ever seen.
8 starts, 9 sub appearances, W4 D2 L8 (18 starts, 4 sub apps for Wycombe, W10 D6 L6)
2 goals (Sunderland H, Norwich H), 1 assist (Norwich H), 5 goals for Wycombe (Cambridge A, Cambridge A, Cheltenham H, Crawley H, Yeovil H)
3 LFW MOTM Award (Wolves A, Sunderland H, Villa A)
LFW Ratings – 6, 6, 5, 7, -, -, 5, 7, 7, 8, 6, 6, 8, 5, 7, 5 = 6.28
Interactive Ratings – 6.16
33 – Ilias Chair N/A
I like and worry about tiny Ilias in equal measure. Like, because what’s not to like? Technically excellent, with an immaculate touch, he’s got great confidence in his ability and calmness on the ball that belies his lack of first team experience. He’s smooth and composed in possession, getting and giving, using the ball intelligently. Despite only being three feet tall, he’s not easily bullied either. His arse is so big it’s got its own moon and gravitational pull and that gives him a strong core to go with a low centre of gravity that makes him a right bugger to shrug off the ball.
Worry because, what exactly is he? And where are we going to put him? Not quick enough to be a winger, not prolific enough to be a second striker, not defensive enough to play central midfield, he is yet another player you’d probably have to define as a ‘ten’, and we’ve already got Freeman and Eze who are best there as well. The modern day academy system seems to churn these players out by the truckload – nobody’s a proper winger or striker or central midfielder any more, everybody’s a bloody ‘ten’. We’ve shown, with our formation difficulties this season, how hard it is to accommodate one of those when you’re a scrappy mid-table Championship team and yet we’ve got at least three of them who many people would like to see picked. Those struggles were particularly prevalent with Chair – it took us six attempts to get a win under our belts with him in the team.
Perhaps we saw the answer in the closing weeks of the season. The 4-2-3-1 set up favoured by Steve McClaren opens up three spots behind a lone striker into which the likes of Freeman, Luongo, Manning, Chair, Eze, Smyth and Samuel could all fit quite nicely. When used in a similar position against Birmingham, Chair opened his account for the club with a well-taken goal, an assist and Man of the Match. Intriguing 12 months ahead for the Moroccan.
6 starts, 1 sub appearance, W2 D0 L5
1 goal (Birmingham H), 1 assist (Birmingham H)
1 yellow card (foul)
1 LFW MOTM Award (Birmingham H)
LFW Ratings – 7, 6, 6, 6, 6, 8, 5 = 6.28
Interactive Ratings – 5.89
36 – David Wheeler N/A
I was actually with Ian Holloway doing an interview as the deadline day signings of David Wheeler from Exeter and Bright Osayi-Samuel from Blackpool were ratified. He was very excited about both of them, talking about how they’d help to supply the strikers as well as scoring a few goals themselves. But it seemed at the time a little odd to be signing two wingers for a team that didn’t play with wingers, and so it proved. Osayi-Samuel had to wait until the switch to four at the back near the end of the season for a chance, and Wheeler didn’t even get that with his season curtailed by a nasty ankle injury.
Holloway said of Wheeler at the time: “We’ve got David Wheeler who I think is a fantastic fella, he got 20 goals last year albeit a couple of divisions down. Goalscorers are at a premium and I think we’ve got a good one.” I think that gives the game away a bit. Having scored 21 goals from midfield for Exeter the previous season, including a club record run of goals in seven consecutive games, I think QPR thought they could cut a bit of a corner in their quest to beef up the attack. We’ve spoken before about the market for strikers, inflated by the presence of clubs like Villa and Newcastle at this level to the point where a part-used Sone Aluko now costs you £8m and the problems that creates for our club. In Wheeler I think they thought they’d found somebody who could potentially play up front and score regularly at this level for half a million quid. Things looked promising when he quickly opened his account on full debut with a poacher’s effort at Middlesbrough, but a long evening spent with him playing as a lone striker away at Derby was unfair on the boy and highlighted the problems with the plan. Thereafter, prior to his injury, he joined the likes of Jake Bidwell, Pawel Wszolek and Osayi-Samuel in desperately trying to fit into positions he wasn’t suited to in the wing back system – he did a decent job on the right side of that against Sheff Utd, less so in the next game at Nottingham Forest.
That wing back system was designed to get the three midfielders we’ve already spoken about together in positions of influence, and for them it worked. It didn’t really work for anybody else though, particularly Wheeler, who will be looking to start all over again in August.
5 starts, 4 sub appearance, W2 D0 L4 (2 starts for Exeter prior to moving)
1 goal (Middlesbrough A), 0 assists
0 LFW MOTM Award
LFW Ratings – 6, 6, -, -, 6, 5, 5, 5, - = 5.5
Interactive Ratings – 5.38
“With the good teams, especially in the Championship, the teams that go up have a good team spirit, backbone and core to the team and normally it’s British with not too many foreign players. That’s no disrespect to the foreign players because there are some fantastic foreign players but if you get a good core to the team, mostly British, with a good team spirit, then you do well. That’s my worry with the way the tam is going at the minute - we’re getting quite a few foreign players in and it never really works in the Championship. I can’t remember a team where it has worked really.”
Another player Holloway seemed to take against early, Mide Shodipo managed just two starts and four sub appearances on loan at Colchester who finished 13th in League Two – doesn’t exactly bode well. Michael Petrasso also finally moved on after similar inaction over a period of five years.
Sean Goss made zero first team appearances, but did finally find a loan deal that he felt was worthy of his immense talent – though whether six months spraying the ball around for Glasgow Rangers against Ross County, Arbroath Shipbuilders and Inverness Caledonian Dandelion was really what he needed to boost a career which has so far had zero proper football in it is doubtful. Within a month the Rangers fans, not known for overreaction and hyperbole of course, were hailing him as “the best player in Scotland” which is a bit like being the nicest person at Jim Davidson’s birthday party. Soon a weird tug of war was developing between Rangers who said they’d quite like to keep him, and Ian Holloway who’d found no use for him but objected anyway. All of this died away after mid-February when Goss made only seven further appearances: subbed off after 68, subbed off after 74, removed at half time of a home defeat to Kilmarnock, on for the last 12 minutes, on for the last 16 minutes, on after 32 minutes due to an injury and finally subbed off after 28 minutes of the 5-5 at Hibs. He finished with 12 starts, three sub appearances and two goals in five months and is now back to Instagramming another lavish holiday. Hmmmmmmm.
The Twitter @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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