Queens Park Rangers Season Preview: the re-building job

With the 2018-19 Championship season coming up, The Football Lab spoke to Queens Park Rangers fan Wayne Sumner (@bexhoops).

Queens Park Rangers haven’t had roaring success on the field recently, but over the last couple of years you have reduced the wage bill and lowered the average age. Do you see that as an important part of the re-building process?

I think reducing the wage bill at Loftus Road was one of the most important things QPR have had to do which impacts the entire club. The threat of FFP still hangs over the club like the sword of Damocles and buying players for big money is way past the clubs remit. The only way forward is to invest in youth, which the board have done and put in place a strong scouting network, led by former player Gary Penrice, to scout players from lower leagues.

Ian Holloway has been replaced this summer by Steve McClaren. Are you hoping he’ll bring a more exciting brand of football to Loftus Road?

The decision to replace Holloway was not as much of a shock to those regulars at Loftus Road, as those outside. We had some great results including wins over both Wolves and Cardiff but the lack of any real ideas and continuity confused fans. Away wins were at a premium and Holloway’s ‘up and at ’em’ brand is dated.

Under McClaren I expect the players to be well-drilled in their approach and hopefully play a more modern type of possession football. The QPR job isn’t a plum role so I suppose McClaren was the best option as he knows the league and has had fair success in getting sides into the play-off area.

Matt Smith had 62 headed efforts last season and scored eight headed goals; more than any other Championship player in both metrics. Is it important to have that focal point up top?

Matt Smith is always going to cause problems in the air and is also useful defending set pieces. Saying that, his hold up play isn’t the best and if McClaren intends to play to feet he may be better used as a substitute. Just his presence in the box scares defences and I would definitely use him.

Paul Smyth and Eberechi Eze look like exciting forwards who could play just off Smith, perhaps simultaneously if you go 4-3-3. Do you expect either of them to enjoy an eye-catching season this term?

I’m really excited about Eze and Smythe. If we go 4-3-3 I expect to see Eze leading the line with Freeman and Smythe joining him. Smythe has particularly impressed me with his pace and finishing. A very quiet and unassuming lad, I can see him becoming a star. Eze on the other hand is the luxury player who can do the unexpected and produce something from nowhere. Don’t expect to see Eze chasing back because that’s not his game.

Assist-king Luke Freeman has said he wants to add more goals to his game this year. Where would you see him fitting into a 4-3-3?

Fans were worried we could lose freeman as his deliveries from dead balls to Smith were invaluable. Switching to 4-3-3 would mean a role just behind the forward which could prove just what Freeman needs to influence the game more. He has been played out wide which never suited him and he needs to be on the ball more.

Alex Smithies has been arguably the best goalkeeper in the Championship over the last two seasons. Do you need to replace him, or is Matt Ingram or Joe Lumley good enough?

Like most fans of any club, you don’t want to see your Player of the Season go, especially as 4mil was a couple light, but in Ingram and Lumley we have decent replacements and don’t need another keeper. Ingram deserves his chance having been Smithies’ cover for 2 seasons.

You switched between three and four-man defences last season. Which of those systems did you prefer?

I don’t think we really knew which system we were playing as it changed weekly. We played different players in different systems and the players seemed lost. With 4-4-2 we could get the ball wide to wingers. 4-3-3 the game passed the midfield by so really we didn’t cope well with either. Hopefully McClaren will have them better drilled in the formation he prefers.

Alex Baptiste, Joel Lynch and the now-departed Nedum Onuoha are all in their 30s and neither have had the easiest time with injuries. Was it important to add another centre-back in Toni Leistner?

Centre-back was a position that has worried Rs fans for a long time. None of our current incumbents inspired confidence and with Nedum turning down a new deal and moving on we needed someone. Lynch got better with more games and hopefully will carry on. Don’t know anything about Leistner – I wouldn’t be surprised to see another defender come in before the deadline.

Left-back Jake Bidwell started 45 league games last season yet personally, I find his ability in possession to be a tad limited. Will he have a bigger job on to keep his place after the change of manager?

Bidwell could well get the armband as he played more games than anyone else last season. He did get forward more last season than previous and provided many crosses for Smith. I don’t know if it was the system but previously he was reluctant to cross half way. He actually played centre half for a few games but don’t think he’s best role is there

You’ve had Jordan Cousins, Pawel Wszolek and David Wheeler all tried out of position at right-back/right wing-back at various times last season; each of them appeared a bit suspect defensively. Do you need a specialist for that position to compete with Darnell Furlong?

Holloway tried the wingers at wing-back many times and it failed miserably. Pavel looked like a fish out of water. He needs the ball at he’s feet to run at defenders. Wheeler must have wondered what he was doing and Cousins spent more time on the treatment table than on the pitch. The news on Furlong is he will be out for the start of the season so it will be interesting to see what McClaren does in a position that has been a real problem for us. We really do need to get cover in at right-back, maybe a loan from somewhere.

Massimo Luongo looked like one of your better players last season. Does his power and dynamism allow him to contribute in different phases of play?

Mass had his best season for us and speculation of a move away from the club is rife. His one downfall is a shortage of goals. His dynamic runs from midfield would be a miss but we really need more goals from the centre of the park. He has definitely found himself in scoring areas much more but needs to add finishing to his game to move to a higher level.

By contrast, Josh Scowen appears to be a decent enough ball-winner. Is it important that he’s given a role that doesn’t force him to move too far out of his comfort zone?

Scowen has slotted in really well, he’s never given up and that tenacious attitude has made him a firm favourite with the faithful. He needs to just carry on what he’s doing, breaking up play and passing it on to the more creative players. He must have a role just in front of the back four or its pointless playing him.

Rs aside, what are your thoughts ahead of the Championship season as a whole? Any potential dark horses for you?

As always, I’m expecting The Championship to be as competitive as ever. The three relegated sides will all be in the mix I’m sure. Aston Villa’s financial situation is up in the air but I still think they’ll be in with a shout. Forest seem to be this season’s Wolves and are trying to buy their way up. Derby could go either way with Lampard in charge. It’s hard to pick a dark horse this year and it’s a lottery really.

Where will you finish?

I hate to sit on the fence but I really haven’t a clue. Recruitment is key and use of the loan system could be crucial. If we can find goals from midfield, who knows but realistically survival is the most important thing for us, so anywhere above the drop would be ok, anywhere in the top eight would mean a good season.

Finally… C’MON YOU RS!

Thanks to Wayne for his answers. The Football Lab’s verdict on QPR can be found on We Love Betting from 30th July.