Premier League Preview: QPR
Lessons from last season
Last season was solely focused on getting promotion. Not winning the league or even playing particularly well. The goal was simple, it was set and it was met. Now, similarly, QPR have a very basic target: survive. Whether it's 40 points or 36, whether they do it with the old guard or the summer signings, it just does not matter.
I don't think this tunnel vision is a bad thing. Fancy football isn't on the agenda, Europe isn't realistic but -- with Leicester and Burnley coming up, and a handful of sides including Swansea, West Brom and Aston Villa looking vulnerable -- avoiding the drop is well within the club's reach. Last campaign we learned Rangers were good at keeping the ball out of the net. But there was no one apart from Charlie Austin, really, getting goals for the club, barring Bobby Zamora's moment of magic, so they need at least one proven finisher to fire.
Predicted starting lineup
The switch to a 3-5-2/5-3-2 formation is new. Harry Redknapp says that he has always liked teams set up that way, but this is the first time he has employed it for himself for a while. It underwent a bit of a rebirth in the World Cup, especially with Netherlands using Dirk Kuyt as a flying wing-back, and Redknapp will be lining up his side to try to emulate the Dutch.
Rio Ferdinand will sit in the centre of the back three with new signing Steven Caulker most likely on his right, and then there will be a fight among three for the left side between Nedum Onuoha, Richard Dunne and Clint Hill -- the two who miss out most often will be desperately unlucky after their efforts and achievements last season. There will also be more new faces coming in -- Redknapp would like as many as six more as he currently has a threadbare squad.
PREMIER LEAGUE PREVIEWS
As we count down to kickoff on Aug. 16, ESPN FC previews all 20 teams in this season's competition. Can Burnley, QPR and Leicester stay up? Will the new signings of Alexis Sanchez, Diego Costa and Adam Lallana help usurp Man City's crown? Will Manchester United get back on track under Louis van Gaal?
As long as the Hoops adapt to the new formation quickly, and Ferdinand keeps fit, then their defence is certainly a strength, and I include goalkeeper Robert Green as a pivotal figure in that. He seems totally at ease at QPR now after the draining and awkward situation put upon him when previous boss Mark Hughes signed Brazil No. 1 Julio Cesar -- who had just won the treble in Italy with Inter Milan -- and dropped the former West Ham man.
Cesar doesn't look like going anywhere soon, certainly not permanently, with two years left on his contract, and a handsome wage few teams will match, but Green has been guaranteed he will be first choice, and I think he could prove to be crucial.
The atmosphere and unity among the team is fantastic now, also -- a total change from the side that spent two seasons in the top flight between 2011 and 2013 almost totally rudderless and wrecked by divisive influences around Loftus Road.
At the moment they look very light in attack. Charlie Austin was a one-man strike force last season, the midseason dip the Rs suffered that cost them automatic promotion came when he was out with a shoulder injury. Zamora proved he still has the Midas touch, but beyond those two there is very little. Matt Phillips and Junior Hoilett might offer pace and guile in a support-striker role but there is not enough there to be confident of the whole squad scoring around the 38-45 goals required to keep most teams in the top flight last season.
The squad is light in numbers and it needs an injection of reliable and versatile squad players who will not complain when they spend a bit of time on the bench, which is why learning that Gary O'Neil has been let go has come as a shock. A couple of players of his ilk are essential to a squad for when games, injuries and suspensions start coming thick and fast.
Manager - ESPN FC profile
Harry is Harry. He has been around the game long enough and managed enough teams that everyone seems to have a very strong opinion on him; they love him or hate him. For getting Rangers up last season, for clearing out the deadwood, brightening the place up and for getting the best from Joey Barton, he deserves a lot of credit.
But he is 67 and it would be unlikely that he is planning a two- or three-year project, which I think would have been a great idea with the position the club is in now. Dunne says he instills a sense of trust in his players that allows them to play with freedom; he treats them like adults and encourages them all, largely, to police themselves, which has worked. I also think Redknapp has got a personal surge of enthusiasm for this season -- and it will never be dull.
Rio Ferdinand. The deal terrified me initially but I have warmed to the idea based on a number of factors. His basic weekly wage is only around 40,000 pounds with bonuses for appearances and probably clean sheets, which is manageable.
He looks in superb physical condition, was spending free time in the gym on the preseason tour to Germany, and is a demon at table tennis. Rangers' medical staff are confident he will remain injury-free this season after a gruelling four-hour medical and, when you consider he is unlikely to be risked in any cup matches, which the survival-hungry club will have little concern for, it sounds promising.
Also learning he will be playing in a back three, likely to be alongside young athletes like Caulker and Onuoha, with rapid wing-backs Armand Traore and Danny Simpson around him, also makes you think Rangers will be well covered. QPR just cannot afford for him to struggle with injury, or the leap from contender to relegation candidate becomes a short one.
Predicted finish: 15th
My expectations are typically minimal. To stay in the Premier League would be fantastic. And to do it with a team that looks united would be even better. For too long now Rangers have been riddled with negativity fuelled by bad buys, in-fighting and misfit players. Even when the club won the 2010-11 Championship, before Tony Fernandes' investment, it was with unpopular and interfering owners, and although Adel Taarabt played amazing football he was doing it for himself.
I didn't enjoy the experience as much as last season. But then, as Ale Faurlin told me on the tour: "We never do things easy at QPR," and I doubt they will this time. My dream finish would be a last-minute Hill goal keeping Rangers up on the last day of the season away at Leicester City. But I think they could do better than that, and a spot around 14th and 16th place should be realistic.