Here's how Steve McClaren is rediscovering his mojo at QPR

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 22 October 2018, 15:33

Queens Park Rangers are currently among the Championship’s in-form teams - we explore how Steve McClaren has turned things around at Loftus Road.

Nightmare start

When a manager has not been able to succeed in high-profile jobs, as was the case in McClaren’s tenures with England and Newcastle, they sometimes struggle to re-discover their mojo in lower-profile jobs due to the increased scrutiny on them.

Many questioned QPR’s decision to appoint McClaren and there must have been doubts about his future after even the first four games; not only did they lose each of those encounters, they conceded 13 goals including a shocking 7-1 defeat at West Brom, where they gave their opponents wide open spaces to attack and score six second-half goals.

After that result was followed by a 3-0 home loss to Bristol City, any pre-season optimism of a more possession-based style of play went out of the window.

The subsequent turnaround shows that no conclusions should be drawn in August.

Improved defence

Nobody could have predicted what followed. Over the last nine rounds of Championship fixtures, QPR have taken 17 points – only Sheffield United have accrued more – and they have only conceded six goals.

Angel Rangel completes on average 2.4 tackles per 90 minutes – only three second-tier right-backs with more than five appearances to their name have made more – and Maxime Colin, Pawel Olkowski and Eric Lichaj have all missed a larger proportion of their attempted challenges.

Rangel, who played in the Premier League with Swansea for seven consecutive seasons, looks a shrewd addition. While Joel Lynch and Toni Leistner struggled to defend open spaces in August, they have recently benefited from playing in a tighter unit and are finding life easier heading balls away from the box; Lynch has won 78 aerial duels this season, the 3rd-most in the Championship.

 

Absolutely Fabulous Joe Lumley

This improved defensive record has coincided directly with the introduction of Joe Lumley between the sticks.

Matt Ingram was very highly-rated by Gareth Ainsworth while at Wycombe but he has not kept a Championship clean sheet since May 2016, which suggests he might have to prove himself again in League One.

Lumley, however, is proving to be one of the finest young goalkeepers in the EFL.

He made an excellent impact at Bristol Rovers in the second half of their 2016-17 campaign in League One before catching the eye at Blackpool the following year in similar circumstances.

The 23-year-old therefore fully deserves his opportunity in the second-tier and is, quite literally, grasping it with both hands.

The academy graduate came in at a very uncertain time and, in an imperfect performance against Wigan, he made five key saves to preserve a 1-0 win and has since grown in confidence.

He organizes the defence better than any goalkeeper the Rs have had for some time and his quick, accurate throwing sets up attacks.

Making it look Eze

One of the highlights of QPR’s season so far has been the form of Eberechi Eze.

The versatile forward initially caught the eye with his performance in the first home game of the season, a 2-1 defeat to Sheffield United.

 

A lot of budding Championship stars rely on pace, but Eze has more of a graceful style.

He likes to influence the transition into forward areas through clever movement, quick footwork and fine technique.

Against Derby for example, he had more touches in his own half (15) than he did in the final third (12) and his average position was inside the centre-circle.

That shows that although on paper he’s listed as a number 10, he’s not the type that will break ahead of the ball too often and can influence games in different ways.

Eze is the West Londoners’ top league goalscorer with three, yet there are suggestions that his finishing can improve which shows that, even after receiving international recognition, he still has room to develop further.

One-striker systems

The challenge for McClaren has been to get the best out of both Eze and Luke Freeman, the latter having been a key creative influence.

The duo, theoretically, are capable of fulfilling wide midfield roles in a 4-4-2, but in practice, those duties require defensive discipline which means they aren’t able to do what they do best, which is drift into central areas and set up attacks.

Although target man Tomer Hemed and mobile forward Nahki Wells arrived in late August, therefore, QPR’s better performances have tended to come when just one of them has started up top.

With Freeman on the left, Eze in the hole and Jordan Cousins offering selfless movement down the right, McClaren seems to have found the perfect balance. Right now, he is proving his doubters wrong.

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