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Opposition Profile: Queens Park Rangers

Middlesbrough travels to Loftus Road for a vital clash at the top of the Championship table.

After their dramatic win over Manchester United, Middlesbrough will return to melodic Championship action, with QPR waiting for the first fifth-round qualifiers. The drama and excitement of the Old Trafford night may provide a morale boost as they return to the usual fixture list. However, in taking Manchester United to added time and then penalties, Chris Wilder's men may not be as sharp as they would prefer.

Meanwhile, QPR was also in action over the weekend as they faced Championship strugglers Peterborough United in the FA Cup. On paper, the game was heavily favoured towards Mark Warburton's side. However, the magic of the FA Cup came to bear its fruit with a 2-0 Peterborough win. Peterborough's victory may be a punch in the gut for QPR, but it does remove the FA Cup as a distraction as they make their charge towards promotion.

Now Middlesbrough and QPR will face each other in a crucial match for the top of the table. Middlesbrough is currently stationed in 7th. However, their games in hand on West Brom (6th) and Huddersfield (5th) means that they can be relatively confident about their chances of returning to the top 6. While just above them and currently out of reach, QPR holds onto 4th place. If getting one over a potential playoff rival is not enough motivation, then the opportunity to move into 2nd position should incentivise them to perform at their best.

Indeed, then, this game could have a severe impact at the top of the Championship table. So we must understand our opposition in the upcoming fixture.

Owners: Tony Fernandes (& Co.)

A Malaysian entrepreneur that once appeared on the Asian edition of the Apprentice, QPR's majority shareholder, can only be described as a prominent and successful businessman. He has had his hand in many successful ventures. Still, He is associated mainly with AirAsia, where his takeover turned the fledgling business into one of the world's most prominent budget airlines.

Once he made his fortune, Fernandes looked to invest in sport. He eventually settled on an agreement to takeover QPR. Still, his first preference had been fellow London-based side West Ham United. After that, however, talks broke down, and he would later agree on a deal with Queens Park Rangers instead.

While QPR may have been his first footballing investment, it was not the first time he funded a sports team. Fernandes was the founder of the Lotus Formula One team, which he controlled until it was sold to a Swiss and Middle Eastern Consortium in 2014. During his period, Fernandes became acquainted with Richard Branson. When he lost a wager, the latter would work on Fernandez's airline as a waitress.

Once his takeover of QPR was complete, Fernandes actualised his desire for the club to return to the Premier League. A frivolous spending spree would ensue. The club brought enough experienced ability to fire themselves back to the promised land. However, it came at a price. A very short stay in the Premier League and the following Championship season on exuberant wages dragged the club into FFP controversy. A transfer ban and a £42m fine would be handed down by the FA for their transgressions.

Fernandes has since brought in Lee Hoos as Chief Executive and with him a more intelligent way to run the club. In fact, the club earned national attention for its new, more sustainable practices, with both the Mail and Forbes doing a piece on the promotion hopefuls (linked below).

When talking to the Mail, Hoos points to carefully structured budgets and recruiting intelligently to develop talent rather than bringing in the ready-made product. Of course, this method can have consequences on the pitch if a player fails to make the grade, but it is a more sustainable method of running the club. Meanwhile, developing players this way can also garner interest from Premier League clubs, which can boost the club's financial records.

The Forbes interview also reveals plans for a new £20m training ground as part of their sustainable future. This plan will be primarily funded by the current ownership. Still, they have also opened the opportunity for the fans to invest in the club's future. QPR released a bond that is open for the fans to partake in. The fans must understand the risk involved through a questionnaire before they are granted the opportunity to invest. If successful and the club gains promotion within the set period, they will see a return of 25% on their original commitment.

This is a growing method by football clubs that need to raise funds while looking to be less reliant on the backing of their ownership. While the financial aspect is of primary importance, this form of bond will only further the fans backing of the club. After all, they are financially and emotionally invested in the club's success.

Despite the club's numerous impressive moves towards running the club more sustainably, they still have a lot of work to do. QPR still remains somewhat reliant on its owner's investment. Their wages alone still run above the club's income, and the covid situation has clamped their move towards sustainability. However, QPR heard the warning signs from their FFP ruling and has taken impressive steps towards a future where that doesn't happen again. As a result, QPR is paving the way for other Championship clubs to follow into a more sustainable future. They may have remained competitive through these changes, but there is no guarantee that will stay the case, as seen with Hull City. Instead, it is now up to the football pyramid to change to give sustainably run clubs not only the opportunity for promotion but the chance to sustain themselves in the top division.

Manager: Mark Warburton

The selection of Mark Warburton to lead the club into this new period of stability will come as little surprise to those that have a precursory understanding of Mark Warburton's career.

As a player, Warburton made little impact on the game beyond non-league featuring Enfield and Boreham Wood. However, he would come into his own once he left the pitch for an office.

His education in coaching primarily took place at Watford. The fellow London-based side brought Warburton into the fold first as the academy manager and then as under-18's assistant manager. However, this experience was limited to the youth factions of the club. So he would look further afield to spend time in a first-team environment. This was when Brentford's interest became clear. He would first play a role as an assistant manager before moving upstairs into a Sporting Director role and finally as the manager. He recorded an impressive 1.77 points per game across 78 fixtures during his first managerial stint building the foundations of what has been a respectable managerial career to date. However, Warburton was sacked despite impressing during the season that saw Brentford promoted from League One. A dispute over owner Benham's plan to enrol 'Moneyball' statistical analysis in recruitment led to his dismissal. As a result, we can imply that a more traditional scouting style is currently taking place at QPR.

This abrupt end to his Brentford career didn't stop his star from rising, though. Rangers were the next side to take a punt on Warburton. The English manager was a massive success during his time North of the border, averaging an outstanding 2.18 points per game across 82 fixtures winning the Scottish Championship in the process.

He would then join Nottingham Forest. Forest was a turbulent side during his time at the club, which was reflected in his worst record to date. An average of 1.3 points per game was not enough to keep him in the role beyond December 2017.

A two-year hiatus from football followed his less than successful period at Forest. He returned to management with QPR in 2019. Mark Warburton has overseen more fixtures for QPR than any of his previous clubs. At the same time, their current standing indicates that he will only improve on his current 1.48 points per match.

He has shown that he can perform under pressure, install his favoured philosophy to great success and turn clubs on a relatively stringent budget into promotion contenders. These abilities have placed him in good stead for his role at QPR.

Furthermore, under Warburton's tenure, QPR has played an exciting and enthralling brand of football which has seen results. This entertains the fans and provides the wins to send them home satisfied.

Finally, to return to the dispute between Warburton and Benham, the QPR manager revealed that he learned a lot from Benham's methodology, taking this into his jobs beyond Brentford. Their disagreement was over the extent of the club's reliance on statistical analysis rather than its use. This means that QPR will be using this insight to further their recruitment drive alongside their more traditional means to ensure their money is spent well.

One To Watch: Chris Willock

QPR is a side that has become known for its attacking exploits. However, these displays of attacking excellence rely on talented forwards, and Chris Willock is one such figure.

The 24-year-old has had a tumultuous career to date. Willock started his footballing journey at Arsenal, but he would play his trade for 5 clubs before joining QPR, including a period in the Portuguese capital with Benfica. It has taken him some time to settle following a chaotic start to his career, but he has really come into his own this season. The former England Under-19's international is now generally regarded as the critical figure in QPR's attack, and for a good reason.

Willock has featured in 27 of the clubs 28 fixtures this season, establishing himself as a crucial first-team player for Mark Warburton. Willock has returned the faith placed in him by his manager with an impressive 6 goals and 9 assists.

He may not be the side's top goal scorer (Lyndon Dykes: 9) or minutes per goal (Andre Gray: 130 minutes). Still, he remains a consistent goal threat averaging a goal every 378 minutes. This persistent shooting threat is mirrored in his 0.7 shots on target per 90 and by out-competing his 3.2 xG. Many statistical analysts will state that such a return is not sustainable; however, it shows that he can find the back of the net from situations where the odds are against him.

He pairs this goalscoring ability with comfortably the best assist record in the team. In fact, his return of nine assists places him joint 3rd in the league and 1st on most assists, excluding set pieces. While his key passes per match only position him 3rd in the side, he can find the killer pass to open clear-cut goalscoring opportunities, as represented in the 11 big opportunities he has created this season. The attacking midfielder's creativity from open play cannot be downplayed. It has played a key role in QPR's attacking threat this season.

Unsurprisingly, Chris Willock does not have the highest accurate passes per 90 with a lowly 27.8. Still, he does have one of the best pass success rates on the side despite his progressive role. While in joint third on this chart, only 1.1% pass accuracy separates him from the table topper, highlighting his passing proficiency.

Meanwhile, when he does drift out wide to support the sides attacking wingbacks, Willock has a dangerous delivery.

Furthermore, Willock's game is a collage of passes, shots, and dribbles. Despite predominantly featuring in a central position this season, Willock has made more dribbles per match than any other player in the side. This added dynamism to his game helps draw in defenders opening space for other talented forwards to exploit, layering his previous danger with more precarious ability. In addition, his trickery and ability to get past a man helps to further puncture the defensive line.

Finally, Willock has become well integrated into the side's high press. He placed 5th for most possessions won in the final third and for successful tackles per match. In his efforts defensively, Willock has committed to the defensive and the offensive cause.

Willock is also impressively consistent. The former Arsenal academy graduate has only marked below a 7.0 on Fotmob on three occasions this season.

He still has some work to do, though. While he has proven to be apt at dribbling, crossing, and shooting, his positioning and movement can sometimes be lacking. His lack of physicality can mean that he can be bullied off the ball. Contrary to what his assist tally would suggest, Willock lacks creativity when passing the ball. Most of his assists have come about through his impressive crossing abilities or a simple pass to someone in the space opened by his dribbling. Suppose he wants to become an increasingly unpredictable force for defenders to deal with. In that case, he should add a creative flair to his passing. Additionally, while he has shown promise in previous seasons, he has only come into his own in the 2021/2022 season. He will have to show that he can maintain this form into the near and mid-term future.

If Middlesbrough can keep the dynamic No. 10 quiet, then there is a real opportunity for them to take all three points from the game. For Willock himself, it would come as little surprise if he garnered Premier League interest in the coming months and years.

Honourable Mentions:

Albert Adomah

The former Middlesbrough fan favourite has rolled back the years this season. A player who had recently appeared to have left his best years behind him, Adomah has been a constant threat for Mark Warburton's side. Furthermore, his role in the sides pressing cannot be understated as he tops the side recoveries in the final third chart.

It is great to see the 34-year-old performing well, and playing against his former club may give him further incentive to put the ball in the back of the net.

Illias Chair

Last year's player of choice, Illias Chair, has continued to be a dangerous threat, and he was just pipped to the post by Chris Willock. A dynamic ball carrier with a low centre of gravity, the Moroccan is a joy to watch and a danger for any opposition.

Rob Dickie

Mark Warburton's style of play often results in an over-exposed defence which can leave a lot to do for those propping up the side's formation. The former Brentford manager has tried to counteract this with a back three. Still, a lot of their success in managing to outscore the opposition is down to Dickie. A significant presence at the heart of the defence, he is the kind of defender that attackers hate to face.

Hot Prospect: Andre Dozzell

QPR's recruitment philosophy focuses predominantly on players leaving top clubs, having failed to maximise their potential during loan moves away from their parent clubs. This methodology is arguably best seen in their success with Chris Willock. However, these players are often permitted to look for a home elsewhere after the typical period when they are considered a prospect. This means that while QPR has a young squad, few of their frequent first-teamers belong in the under-23 category. Andre Dozzell, at 22, is the exception that proves the rule.

Andre Dozzell played in League One for Ipswich Town. He shocked a large proportion of the fans when he penned a three-year extension with the Tractor Boys despite his contract running to an end the following summer. However, this contract had an affordable £1m release clause activated by QPR, allowing the Hoops to get their man and Ipswich Town to be compensated for their youth product.

His time at Ipswich Town will be marred by his failure to meet his lofty expectations, which may have hindered his development. The son of an Ipswich Town legend. Dozzell had gained a lot of local media attention during his development. Many reports highlighted that he could be even better than his father, and his debut at the tender age of 16 would only end up fanning the flames. A goal 26 minutes into his debut would mirror one of his father's fetes and highlight him as one for the future.

At such a tender age, Ipswich Town was careful not to overexpose him to first-team football. Instead, they used him sparingly but enough to maintain intrigue over the player's abilities. His performances during this period led to him being called up to numerous England youth set upsides (U16, U17, U18, U19). However, the highlight of his international youth career came in 2017. Despite functioning at a youth level above his own age range, he played an essential part in the Under-19's UEFA European Championship success. During this period, he also displayed the potential to be a future club leader captaining at the international youth level on several occasions.

However, a severe Cruciate Knee Injury would see him miss almost all the 2017/2018 season. This was a massive blow for the youngster. However, he fought back from the injury and has remained fit and available for selection. Still, he has struggled to make up for lost time, ultimately failing to fulfil his potential during his time with the Tractor Boys.

He arrived in QPR looking for a fresh start in a less physical league. However, he has failed to establish himself as a critical first-team fixture, with him playing in just 37% of the side's minutes this season.

Andre Dozzell is a very technically proficient player on his day. A No. 6 or central defensive midfielder by trade, he can be equally capable at the very heart of the midfield (or No. 8).

His best talents come in his ball distribution. He has an eye for a pass and can play direct incisive passes through midfield and defensive lines. With his ability to read the game ahead of him, he can be the player that feeds the man that provides an assist. Unfortunately, in operating from a deeper position, the opportunity to independently establish goalscoring chances are limited, but, nonetheless, he has managed to supply 10 key passes so far this season. Arguably, though, his creative ability can make him so good in midfield. Instead, he must maintain possession and find players in more threatening positions. He is comfortable with this, as he has recorded the best pass accuracy at QPR. However, despite flashes of his talents in this sector of his game, he has failed to turn it into a consistent feature of QPR's style. In turn, he played a bit-part role in recent periods of the season.

Dozzell may be tall and an imposing aerial threat (arguably something he hasn't made the most of), but he lacks physicality elsewhere. One of the primary concerns for Ipswich fans was whether his slight frame could deal with the physical requirements of League One. Since he arrived at QPR, these issues may have been tempered, but it remains a persistent concern. Some Middlesbrough fans will remember the Belgium midfielder Julien De Sart. He is a very talented player on the ball. Still, his slight frame prevented him from establishing himself in England, and these concerns are mirrored in Dozzell. However, these limitations can be limited by pairing the midfielder with a more combative midfielder that can take some physical strain away from the 22-year-old. While he has played alongside midfielders who impart some physicality, their focus has been more offensive isolating Dozzell in defensive situations.

There are no doubting Andre Dozzell's talents. However, he will need to turn around his current predicament to establish himself in the QPR first team and prevent his career from falling into disappointing obscurity. So how does he do this? The first and most important is to maximise his talents when he next enters the field. He has shown his ability already this season, highlighting that he can perform at this level across four fixtures in November. If he recaptures that form in the second half of the season, he will return to the starting XI and regain the plaudits before long. Secondly, he needs to build himself up. While physicality may not be the main feature of his game, he needs to stand his own against stronger players, highlighting his lack of stature as a possible weakness in the side. Finally, should his time at QPR fail, then a move abroad may be the best option for Dozzell. He may not garner an incredible plethora of clubs interested in him. Still, a move to some of the leagues on the continent could really help him thrive. For example, he could follow in Julien De Sart's footsteps by joining a Pro-League team as the league's style of football will suit him to a T.

Prediction: QPR 1-2 Middlesbrough

Chris Wilder's men will return to Championship football with an impressive win over a tough opposition boosting them into the top 6.


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