Opposition Report: QPR
Middlesbrough continues their difficult start to the season with their trip to the capital.
Middlesbrough kicked off the season in steady form by drawing with fellow potential promotion candidates West Bromwich Albion. Wilder will be hoping to build on this platform with a win against a QPR that has been quietly forming their own potentially promotion contending side under new Head Coach Michael Beale.
QPR had a clear-out before the arrival of Michael Beale, with eight players parting ways with the club, either making a free transfer or joining the free agent market. Of these players, Moses Odubajo and Yoann Barbet may be severe losses. Moses Odubajo was the first choice right back when available, but his injuries meant they couldn't consistently rely on him. QPR tried to keep Barbet's services, but he rejected a contract extension leaving the club with little option but to let him go. QPR also boosted their coffers, earning £810,000 through the sale of Jordy de Wijs to Fortuna Düsseldorf.
While the club has seen some former key players through the rotating doors, they have added to the side with astute signings. Jake Clarke-Vickers has proven to be a step or two below Chelsea, but he has consistently performed in the Championship, proving to be a safe pair of hands with little upfront investment (free transfer). Kenneth Paal is unproven in the Championship, but his stint at Zwolle shows he has the aptitude to succeed at QPR (free transfer). Tyler Roberts should slot into the system behind the striker with little effort (loan). His previous output in the Championship makes him an exciting addition in a position they previously lacked. Meanwhile, Brighton and Hove Albion's Taylor Richards represents the most considerable risk having struggled to establish himself at Birmingham City last time out. Yet, in the 2019/2020 season, he proved to be a pivotal addition to Doncaster in League One, indicating his potential to succeed at QPR.
Jake Clarke-Salter, 24 (free)
Jordy de Wijs, 27 (£810k)
Kenneth Paal, 25 (free)
Charlie Austen, 32 (free)
Tyler Roberts, 23 (loan)
Moses Odubajo, 28 (free)
Taylor Richards, 21 (loan)
Dominic Ball, 26 (free)
David Marshall, 37 (free)
Charlie Kelman, 20 (loan)
Yoann Barbet, 29 (free)
Lee Wallace, 34 (free)
Kieran Westwood, 37 (free)
Dillion Barnes, 26 (free)
Total fees: £0
Total fees: £810k
QPR may have seen a few notable outgoings this summer, but their astute business in the market means that they have replaced them and added further quality to the side. They have also rebalanced a steadily ageing squad giving them a steady average age of 25.
However, Michael Beale's start at QPR was far from perfect as his side slumped to a 1-0 defeat against Blackburn Rovers. The concern for many QPR fans is that the defeat followed the same patterns as last season. A lack of invention and clinical finishing blunting what, with the talent in their team, could be a very sharp attacking edge. However, QPR had to field a weakened side in the curtain raiser with several key attacking talents unavailable through injury. QPR's injury situation is expected to improve before they face Middlesbrough with the return of Luke Amos and Chris Willock. These two key offensive players could go some way to solving the club's current attacking issues.
Meanwhile, Wilder was hopeful that they could strengthen at Middlesbrough before this weekend's clash, but the turbulent market has prevented these moves from coming to fruition. So instead, Wilder will have to travel to London with the thin squad that has been a primary concern all summer.
The second game of the season sees Boro face one of their previous fan favourites. Albert Adomah joined the club from Bristol City, quickly becoming a favourite on Teesside for his attacking flair and personality off the pitch. The Ghanian would be a key feature in Boro's promotion side before moving to Aston Villa. At 34 years old, he will be an option off the bench against his former side.
Style of Play
Michael Beale has joined QPR with a little reputation within fan circles. However, he has earned plaudits within the game for his tactical ingenuity. A coach that stands at the forefront of modern coaching development, his QPR side will become a gem of attractive football in a primarily physical league.
QPR's first outing provides insight into how Beale's side will likely shape up over the coming season, alluding to a passing possession-based team.
QPR racked up 430 accurate passes, the third most passes made on opening day. Yet, they only had 50% possession against an equally progressive Blackburn Rovers side (who racked up 425 passes), indicating that they play short intricate passes at a high tempo. Furthermore, these passes were near-equally distributed between different departments, with defenders averaging the most with 85.5 and attackers the least with 80.75. Yet, the club's progressive short passing policy is best highlighted in goalkeeper Seny Dieng who completed the most paces with 91 as they opted to play out from the back.
Meanwhile, defensively, Beale played with a press that was activated when the opposition played the ball out from the back. When successful, the press often resulted in a turnover of possession before the halfway line. If the opposition breaks the press, Beale has set up a double screen in front of the backline. This was a particularly successful deployment against Blackburn Rovers, as Sam Field and Stefan Johansson made four tackles, breaking up play and limiting Rovers to speculative shots from outside the box. Unlike many managers, Beale opts to push the opposition into the centre of the pitch where they're strongest defensively. However, the side is noticeably weak in the wide areas, which Blackburn exposed on occasion during the first game of the season.
However, questions remain about how his side will shape up going forwards as they struggled to piece together the final third against Blackburn Rovers. Their intricate passing play frequently broke down in the final third, with the side struggling to carve out any convincing opportunities. As a result, QPR was largely reduced to speculative shots from outside the box, as reflected in their 0.14 expected goals, the joint lowest in the league. If this persists, it could be damning to their chances of promotion. However, it will be easier to gauge whether this is an issue when Luke Thomas and Chris Willock return against Middlesbrough.
It may take him some time to get up to speed following his injury, but Chris Willock could be an essential operator for QPR this season. An attacking midfielder who takes possession in a stranglehold and creates goalscoring opportunities. Willock offers a different dynamic to the attack with his direct dribbling and propensity to shoot when the opportunity arises. Naturally, the opposition must close him down as quickly as possible to stifle the flame before it becomes a full-blown fire. Still, they must do it without leaving gaps that Willock can exploit with his passing capabilities.
His technical ability and threat measure up to his output last season too, as the former Benfica player racked up seven goals and eleven assists across 35 appearances last season.
It will be interesting to see how he adapts to Beale's more structured attacking fashion, as it appears to have been one of the factors in a subdued Ilias Chair's performance against Blackburn Rovers. Nonetheless, it shouldn't be long until he adjusts and is fit and firing for QPR this season, and they will need his talents if they want to be within a shot of promotion.
The 23-year-old broke onto the stage with an aura of excitement. While he started his career in the Championship, many believed it wouldn't be long before he stepped into Premier League football. It hasn't worked out as planned for Dozzell, though. A talented passer of the ball and capable of holding his own defensively, he has held his own at Championship level without putting in the performances needed to catch the eye of Premier League scouts.
The top division remains in his grasp, and Michael Beale's tactical philosophy should help to get the best out of the midfielder, so this could be a real opportunity to prove himself capable of making the step up.
However, Beale opted to deploy Dozzell as a wingback in the last match; this could result in a serious adaptation period for the English midfielder. On the other hand, if he succeeds in making the jump, and does so effectively, he could quickly become hot property as it is difficult to find talents in this position (e.g. Djed Spence).
Prediction: QPR 0-1 Middlesbrough
Middlesbrough travels to London with the same squad and most likely an almost identical lineup, giving Wilder's side a continuity that may be lacking with QPR's injury woes. Nonetheless, QPR has proven to be very defensively resilient in their first outing, so it could prove to be a low-scoring tie.