By Christmas day, QPR defender Ryan Nelsen will have 16 starts for the club this season, including 1434 minutes played and a goal to his name, all without a single yellow card. What’s more impressive is the fact that the New Zealander is 35 years old. Some QPR fans consider Nelsen to be the one silver lining of the now-defunct Mark Hughes era. In a long shopping list that consists of big names like Park Ji Sung, Andrew Johnson, and Julio Cesar, Ryan Nelsen has been the surprise buy of the season for the Londoners.
QPR have conceded 31 goals this season, but to single out Nelsen for this defensive vulnerability would be harsh on the All Whites captain. QPR fans have even been singing “Ryan Nelsen, he plays on his own”, due to the disappointing performances of the other defenders Nelsen plays alongside.
So far this season, Ryan Nelsen has committed 11 fouls in his 16 games, which is an average of 0.7 fouls per game. This is quite an impressive statistic considering the fact that QPR have lost 55% of their games, susceptible to attacks from most teams they come up against. His discipline is also important to a QPR team that looks extremely vulnerable from any set-piece as they struggle to deal with crosses.
Nelsen is also an extremely reliable defender. When he commits to a challenge he almost always wins the ball, which is important for the man who is often the last line of defence (besides the goalkeeper). In 10 out of the 13 games he has made tackles in, Nelsen boasts a 100% Tackles Won rate.
In 4 games this season, Nelsen has a 100% Aerial Duels Won rate. Comparatively, Nelsen does not perform as well for ground duels, where perhaps his age may show in his lack of pace, as he only had 1 game where he had a 100% Ground Duels Won rate.
Outside of this statistic, age doesn’t appear to be hindering the New Zealander so far in the first half of the season, but he cannot continue “playing on his own” if QPR are to survive the relegation battle. Nelsen has soldiered on during games despite suffering from vertigo, but QPR may be expecting too much if they continue to rely on the 35-year-old to play week in, week out for the rest of the season.
Nelsen has been an immense player for QPR, but the question remains: who else in that QPR defence will step up and give similar blood, sweat and tears for the cause? Clint Hill may be a good shout, but Hill and Nelsen are very similar players. Other Hoops’ defenders such as Anton Ferdinand, who somehow manages to lose his man at every set piece, and Jose Bosingwa, who has just been fined two weeks’ wages for refusing to sit on the bench, could learn a thing or two from the veteran about playing with heart.