Queens Park Rangers need a win to shake off their Fulham hangover, and Blackburn present the perfect opportunity to do that on Saturday. Following the punishing loss at Fulham, the R's return to Loftus Road seeking their first home win of the season against a struggling Rovers side that has only won once this season.
Some fans laughed off suggestions this week that this is a "must-win" game so early in the season, noting that this year's goal is purely survival and the club has plenty of time to secure the necessary points. Looking down the barrel of Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City and Stoke on the horizon, I beg to differ.
Given the thrashing taken at Craven Cottage, I would wager that the season hinges on how this game plays out. A win will restore the pride and ambition that the team had a fortnight ago. A loss, particularly with a continuation of the poor form shown in the last match, and tough results may continue for weeks, putting QPR in a hole that may be too deep to claw their way out of.
QPR will have to overcome the absences of defensive leader Danny Gabbidon, who continues to recover from a leg injury, and Matthew Connolly who is also sidelined with a knock picked up in training two weeks ago. However the flanks will be boosted by the return of Armand Traore following his one game suspension and Bradley Orr is likely to see the start following his performance last week.
For their part, the players seem ready to put the Fulham game behind them and focus on their form. Alejandro Faurlin told the Club's website:
"Saturday is a massive game for us. We have to prepare in the best way that we can so that we're ready for it. Obviously the mood wasn't that good for a few days after the Fulham game, but that is football. We have to move on and be ready on Saturday.
We know that it is an important game and we have to try and win to bring back the confidence into the team."
Despite their record, no club in the Premier League should be underestimated (See QPR V. Wigan 27/8/11) and this will be a good test of the squad's resiliency. Though surely not world beaters, Blackburn did knock off Arsenal, albeit the north London side's own trouble this year, and drew against Fulham. Like QPR they have had moments of strong play, interspersed with bad form and poor luck, but this is a team that will give the Hoops a good fight and their back is also against the wall. Manager Steve Kean received a vote of confidence from the team's owners this past week, but fans are already clamouring for his head and he will no doubt be pushing his squad for a good result this weekend.
However, if QPR can resume the patient tactics they deployed against Wolves, Newcastle and half of the Aston Villa game, they can leave this fixture with some points in their pocket. Blackburn are coming off thumpings from Newcastle and Man City, having been outscored 7-1 in two contests. Granted, the same can be said for QPR's last two games, but it proves that Rovers can be vulnerable in defence and present a good opportunity for the Hoops to do some damage and right the ship.
Taraabt wants to leave (again):
One player to keep an eye on is Adel Taraabt, who drilled a fantastic free kick while on international duty last week, helping Morocco into the African Nations Cup.
QPR's resident diva (and most talented player / valuable selling asset) appears to have reiterated his complaint that he's underpaid and seeking the exits while on duty for his country.
There is some fairness to his request - what other star would see their club suddenly flush with cash and not ask for a raise? Neil Warnock's rebuff probably didn't help settle matters, as he told the temperamental play-maker that if he wanted a bigger contract he would have to - gasp, shudder - earn it with his play. Taraabt has been altogether average and the creative dominance he showed in the Championship has not emerged thus far in his Premier League campaign.
He is young, signed to an affordable contract and talented with a high ceiling. He could be a fixture at the club for years, but seems eager to move on to a bigger stage with a fatter paycheque. Such is his right, and perhaps to the betterment of QPR, so long as they can extract a hefty fee for him such as the rumoured £10 million PSG was potentially offering. However, it is important to remember that the PSG move collapsed because their management felt Taraabt was not ready for top flight football.
Handled correctly, his motivation to leave could end up being a win-win for player and club. If he can elevate his game and thus his value, he can help the R's secure a stay in the league while demonstrating that he truly has the quality to attract one of the big clubs he so desperately wants to bolt for. However, to get what he wants, he will need to deliver more on the pitch than he has so far this year.
He could start this week, bringing the kind of skill to a set piece he showed against Tanzania for his national team. Click here for video of his strike:
QPR Eye January Moves
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Tony Fernandes will not be dumping endless buckets of cash into the club, but he does intend to continue supporting Neil Warnock and discussion this week has turned to potential moves during the next transfer window.
Warnock is said to be looking for a new striker and another defender or two. Jay Bothroyd's performance may drive that decision between now and January, but DJ Campbell, Heidar Helguson and Jamie Mackie give the manager options should the former Cardiff City man continue to struggle in front of goal in the short term.
Depth in the midfield and defence are also on the radar, and as shown against Fulham, for good reason. The starting four have a good deal of talent, but injuries and the unexpected are part of the game, and the club needs to find better bench replacements than Fitz Hall and Keiron Dyer, who will - unfortunate but not terribly surprising - be out until at least Christmas after dealing with another injury set back.
Dyer was lively in his limited pre-season appearances, but one has to wonder when the club will lose patience with his absence and seek out a replacement. It’s a shame because his versatility was viewed as a plus coming into the year, allowing Warnock to play him in the defence or central midfield. For now, it seems his "pay as you play" deal was a safe investment that didn't pan out, and perhaps he'll contribute something late in the year, but if there are other footballers available, it would not be a surprise to see him dropped when the transfer window reopens, regardless of his status at that point.
Come on you R's!