Although they are hardly the most aesthetic team in the Premier League, and divide the opinions of football fans nationwide; one thing Stoke City cannot be accused of is lacking is a gameplan. Like them or lump them (excuse the pun) it does not take a long time to fathom their approach to football. Set-pieces, crosses and a rigid shape from a robust back four and midfield when defending are their mantras. Stoke are dubbed pragmatic and unpleasant at a comparable rate, but no-one accuse them of lacking a philosophy on football, however infuriating purists find it.
QPR, on the other hand, the team on receiving end of Saturday’s 1-0 score-line in the potteries, seem devoid of any sort of strategy whatsoever. Stoke may have no plan B, but Mark Hughes side have no salient style of play at all. Their line-up on Saturday was a collection of technicians and journeyman with about as much as unity as Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. It’s not that QPR’s individual players are necessarily any worse than Stoke’s, but the fundamental difference is that where Stoke have method, QPR have madness.
A quick glance at the two sides’ summer recruitment is shining evidence of this. Each one of Tony Pulis’ major signings have contributed to one of Stoke’s aforementioned mantras. Charlie Adam provides quality delivery from set-pieces, Steven N’Zonzi provides physicality while protecting the back four and Michael Kightly can deliver crosses to the likes Crouch and Walters from wide areas.
Summer recruitment at QPR seemed to involve plundering round Europe desperately seeking unwanted players. Ji Sung Park, Ryan Nelsen and Andrew Johnson were all once solid performers, yet anyone who believes their best days (on a football pitch) are still to come, is naïve in the extreme. QPR’s farcical transfer policy is perhaps best summed by the two signings in particular (well three to be precise.)
After luring Rob Green away from West Ham with a lavish two-year-deal, Rangers then bizarrely snapped up Julio Cesar on the eve of the transfer deadline. Is Cesar a better goalkeeper? Yes. Is Rob Green a capable enough goalkeeper for a team with designs on finishing mid-table in the Premier League? Yes. Will the difference between Green and Cesar make a significant impact on QPR’s season? No.
Similarly baffling was the decision to sign Jose Bosingwa, another player unanimously declared ‘over-the-hill.’ Furthermore with Nedum Onouha already at the club, it seems totally unnecessary to devote significant wage funds to a player in the same position. Of course this accusation is equally applicable to the signing of Cesar.
Probably QPR’s best signing is Esteban Granero a player of unquestionable ability, although again an air of excess surrounds the transfer. A look up the Premier League table sees not just Stoke, but West Ham and West Brom; who made few extravagant summer signings, however all these teams look poised to have markedly better season than QPR. This again stems from the root of all QPR’s problems this season: no apparent strategy.
Where Stoke, West Ham and West Brom all have a structure and pattern of play which suits their players, QPR do not. Considering how Mark Hughes’ early managerial successes with Wales and Blackburn revolved around organisation, this is all the more surprising. His ill-informed judgement to build a team around perpetual enigmas Adel Taraabt and Djibril Cisse, has raised eyebrows but not league position.
And with a roster of players including Nelsen, Bobby Zamora, Samba Diakhite, Taraabt, Granero and the interchangeably named David/Junior Hoilett; one is left puzzled as to whether Hughes wants his team to be extremely technical or extremely physical.
Both would probably be Hughes’ response. Someone should probably inform Hughes that only exceptional teams can marry these two traits successfully. And under Hughes’ stewardship look an increasingly long way off becoming one of those.