Queens Park Rangers' 2011/12 campaign was a roller coaster ride from hell, that saw the scrappy West Londoners nearly throw away their promotion success before killing one giant after another to hang on to survival by the slimmest of margins. After a busy summer reloading the squad with Premier League veterans and talented young players, their 2012/13 season will be a far different story.
The up and down year was quintessential QPR; a heartbreaking loss one week followed by a gritty performance the next. The squad's inconsistencies squandered countless chances to secure mid-table safety, and doomed manager Neil Warnock's tenure with the club. Defensive woes and an inability to score goals created problems at both ends, and the team sputtered under new boss Mark Hughes. With relegation nearly upon them and a schedule against some of the league's best clubs, doom seemed a certainty. Against all odds, QPR engineered a series of improbable emotional wins to battle back and escape the drop.
No club in the lower half of the table has done more in the past three months than QPR to prepare for the coming season. After the adrenaline packed final day at Manchester City, where the R's nearly shocked the world amid a fierce clash against the eventual league winners, the management team wasted little time addressing the squad's deficiencies. Veterans like defender Ryan Nelsen, striker Andy Johnson and keeper Robert Green were quickly picked up on free transfers. Off stage groans about their respective ages aside, the experience and quality of those additions will be felt on a team that looked rudderless many times last season. The club completed the signing of Samba Diakite, who showed flashes of brilliance in the midfield while on loan last year. After seeing Taye Taiwo return to AC Milan, QPR picked up talented left-back Fabio Da Silva on a season-long loan from Manchester United. They made a huge splash signing Park Ji-Sung from Man U as well, adding an experienced and versatile midfielder who can play wide or in the centre as situations dictate. The team also captured talented winger David Hoilett from Blackburn, a young player with pace and physicality that should pay huge dividends this year. Adel Taraabt was signed to a long term contract that should keep his focus squarely on the Hoops this season. Argentine starlet Ale Faurlin is also returning after a season-ending knee injury cut short a promising campaign last year.
Without a doubt, the club is in transition and Mark Hughes' job is to take this group of new faces and forge a squad that can execute his game plan. Djibril Cisse has been on form in pre-season work, netting two goals in the team's final test match against Augsburg this weekend. Cisse was electric for the R's last year, scoring vital goals and changing the game consistently for the better when he arrived in January. He will need to keep his composure after red cards cost him six matches in 2012, but so long as his name appears in the team sheet, QPR have a chance to stay in games.
The re-vamped midfield creates a chance for QPR to exorcise some of last year's demons - namely possession and pass discipline. This manager is never going to opt for a Swansealona style of metronomic ball chasing, but QPR often found themselves trying to clean up self-inflicted wounds last year after giving the ball away easily or failing to support a movement up the wings. The glut of midfielders and wingers should ease some of that tension, allowing the likes of Diakite, Faurlin and Derry to boss the centre while Hoilett, Park, Wright-Philips and Mackie press up the pitch. Taraabt's role is somewhat unclear - the manager prefers a 4-4-2 that would put him out left, but his strength lies in a more fluid central role where his footwork and ball skills allow him to slice through opponents weak points. With two strikers ahead of him, it remains to be seen where he will be deployed. More important than where he lines up though is his frame of mind. The training ground spats with Barton and public bashings from Warnock at the beginning of last year clearly distracted him, and his failed move to PSG contributed to hapless performances where he either didn't care enough to get involved or couldn't get his ambitions to match his output. The new confidence instilled by the ownership's contract reward, and his improvements under Hughes late last year suggest that Hoops fans may once again see the best that he has to offer. To carry out a successful campaign, Taraabt's contributions will be vital.
QPR host Swansea at Loftus Road on August 18th, where they will look to continue the Loftus Fortress atmosphere that helped them achieve so many critical wins last season. With new faces coming on strong and the returning players united after a thrilling end to the season, things are looking up for the club.
Come on You R'sss!