Brendan Rodgers was not present at Liverpool’s 0-3 thrashing of QPR at Loftus Road due to illness, but his absence was hardly felt. Liverpool displayed a continuing comfort with their possession system, and that system’s defensive potential was shown on Sunday.
In the other dugout, Harry Redknapp will surely be feeling the weight of the Herculean task ahead of him. Salvaging QPR’s campaign is surely starting to look a more difficult prospect as Rangers have now lost three matches in a row. 10 points in 20 matches is a far cry from the 38 points that usually guarantee safety from relegation.
Liverpool took around 66% of possession and created a total of 15 chances. QPR were not too far behind, having created 9 chances. Despite this, QPR’s shots never forced Reina into uncomfortable saves. There were simply no moments were QPR looked likely to score or finish a half-chance. Possession play won the game for Liverpool and reduced the quality of QPR’s opportunities.
Possession Play as Liverpool’s Defense
Liverpool’s possession play illustrated its defensive strength away at Loftus Road on Sunday. Going forward, the Reds were highly dangerous in the first half. They failed somewhat to maintain the same level of pressure on QPR in the second half, but this does not mean that the Hoops were given additional opportunities to score. Liverpool’s possession left Cisse stranded at the top of QPR’s formation. While isolated, there was little Cisse could have done.
QPR managed 6 shots on target, but this statistic disguises the poor nature of these shots. To begin with, not a single one of these attempts occurred within the penalty area. In fact, during the course of the entire match, Rangers only managed one attempt in the 18-yard-box, which was sent high.
It is useful to compare QPR’s approach against Liverpool to that of Stoke’s. Stoke managed to turn Liverpool’s possession system to their advantage, while QPR were overrun by it. The main difference comes down to pressing. Stoke defend as a singular unit from top to bottom, and allow ball retention in areas they deem non-dangerous. QPR on the other hand were drawn out, and single players tempted to close the ball too quickly, freeing up space for Liverpool players off of the ball.
The fact of the matter is that possession system’s defend best when they can tease players out of position and tire them. When Stoke managed to retain a specific system, Liverpool’s possession ended up tiring Liverpool players. It follows that when Stoke tried their long balls forward, they found much more space to exploit and a higher quality of scoring chances.
Possession is only nine-tenths of the law when possession is allowed to grind down a team’s focus and tactical unity. In a strong tactical system, such as Stoke’s, possession can become an invitation for countering. The dividing line is discipline and a coherent system of organization, and QPR lacked both of these qualities against Liverpool.
For more on how Stoke turned Liverpool’s possession to their advantage, read Jonny Grossmark’s excellent analysis here.
Suarez had a field day against the QPR defense. The lack of organization at the back frequently left the QPR line overstretched, leaving large areas of space to run into. Furthermore, the centreback pairing of Hill and Nelson, with a combined age of 69 years, is one that badly lacks pace.
Suarez’s first and second goals were products of easy take-ons in the final third. Rounding Hill for the first goal may well be one of the simplest of dribbles the Uruguayan has enjoyed in the Premier League. While Nelson was in a position to double cover for Hill, his lack of pace gave him no chance of reaching Suarez in time to prevent a well placed finish. Even when their organization is relatively strong, QPR clearly lack pace at the back to cover for each other.
The second goal had an air of luck about it as Suarez’s cross deflected right back into his path, but both goals were constructed by the Uruguayan’s dribbling ability. Additionally, the two QPR defenders originally marking Suarez were caught completely ball watching on the striker’s follow through. If even one of them had marked the offensive runner, this being a basic tenet of defense, Suarez would not have enjoyed such an easy shot on goal.
This graph also highlights Onuoha’s defensive contribution to QPR. Onuoha was one of QPR’s better performers during the match, and effectively shut down Suarez’s attempts to cut in from the left side of the pitch. Onuoha had much to do during the match, as Liverpool have a marked perference to attack down the left and allow Enrique liberty to cut inward. Onuoha coped well with the pressure.
Admittedly, 3 out 7 tackles being a success seems strange to laud, but these tackles were all vital to QPR’s defensive play. Onuoha’s interceptions were also impressive, as he led both teams with 5. Onuoha was even better in his ground duels, where he won 7 of his 9 duels.
Simply put, Suarez would have enjoyed more joy down the QPR’s right flank had Onuoha not turned in as strong a defensive performance as he did.
How Effective is Adel Taarabt?
Taarabt is an enigmatic player. By turns QPR’s savior and villain, the Moroccan was once again a large tactical talking point of Sunday’s match.
Taarabt was easily QPR’s most active and involved player on the pitch. Clearly, he is the leverage point of their attack. Taarabt received most passes and had more touches on the ball than any other Hoops player. Additionally, he drew the most fouls from Liverpool players, winning 5 free kicks in total, two of which were in dangerous areas of the pitch. Taarabt also managed to win possession 7 times in the midfield third.
Despite this, he rarely managed to generate any tangible effect with his possession. Of his five attempted dribbles, only one was successful. And while he had the joint highest shots on target for Rangers, with the best accuracy, all of these shots were toothless and directed straight at Pepe Reina. To top it all off, he lost possession more times than any of this teammates, with a total 22 give-aways to Liverpool and failed to create a single chance for his teammates.
To sum up, it was a rocky performance. While Taarabt can sometimes look the part, mere appearance all too frequently seems the full extent of his ability. It is hard to tell whether he has a proclivity to drift out of position or just an inability to maintain a specific tactical role. He had the most shots on target for QPR, but his rambling movement cut Cisse out of play and condemned the striker to isolation.
The Moroccan will need to overcome his tunnel vision and sacrifice a modicum of individual liberty if he wants to create more tangible attacking products for QPR.
QPR’s biggest fault is their lack of organization, and when paired against an adept possession side, lack of organization is a death sentence. In his post match interview, Redknapp declared the gulf in quality between QPR and Liverpool’s players as the chief factor in his team’s defeat, but this is too simple an excuse for a team that looked devoid of a tactical plan.
Liverpool were deserved and graceful winners. The first half could well be considered the Reds’ best 45 minutes in this season so far. While they failed to completely replicate the intensity of this half, they still looked composed and unlikely to concede in the second.
Redknapp’s side look unlikely to find points any time soon. Their next three matches are all against in-form sides: Chelsea, West Brom, and Tottenham. The reign of Redknapp is currently looking unlikely to save the sinking ship that is Queens Park Rangers.