On Saturday, Loftus Road witnessed its second goalless draw in four days which is testament to QPR’s organization and discipline under manager Harry Redknapp. But while holding the champions in mid-week was a massive point gained, sharing the spoils with Norwich certainly felt like a missed opportunity. Even more so, in fact, when you consider that their eccentric playmaker Adel Taarabt had the opportunity to score from the penalty spot in a game that saw few clear-cut chances.
Before this stalemate, Norwich City had kept only one clean sheet in 45 away matches in the league but came up against a side that is understaffed in the striking department and is working on the principles of safety first under a manager who has been involved in the most number of goalless draws (62) since the inception of the Premier League.
Last season’s goal-scoring savior Djibril Cisse is out on loan in Qatar with Redknapp clearly not fond of the player. Bobby Zamora has a chronic hip injury which restricts him to cameo appearances. And their £8million striker Loic Remy suffered a groin injury on Friday that will reportedly keep him out for up to two months. If you consider all this, a goalless draw was perhaps a logical conclusion.
Both teams lined-up in a 4-4-1-1 formation with similar type of players and not surprisingly, the teams eventually canceled each other out. Following the departure of Ryan Nelsen, Redknapp handed a debut to deadline day recruit Christopher Samba, who was “only 40% fit” according to his manager.
Loan signing Andros Townsend also made his début on QPR’s left flank, but switched to the right later on in the game. Playmaker Taarabt, who was the home side’s most creative player, roamed behind lone forward Jamie Mackie. This was similar to the role Norwich’s crafty playmaker Wesley Hoolahan played behind the away side’s lone striker Grant Holt. Chris Hughton had named the same team that held Tottenham to a mid-week draw at Carrow Road.
The virtually identical statistical figures from the EPLIndex’s stats centre nicely capture the essence of the match. QPR-Norwich figures read: possession 49.7%-50.3%; passes completed 332-342; chances created 12-11; shots taken on goal 16-13; clear-cut chances 2 each; and the number of crosses attempted 22-23.
Both teams played cautiously with two midfielders tasked with the responsibility of sitting in front of the defence to nullify the opposition’s playmaker. Stephane Mbia and Shaun Derry acted almost exclusively as defensive midfielders to break up Norwich’s play and sat very deep compared to their counterparts. The QPR duo attempted only 62 passes (81% accuracy), of which only 15 were in the final third. In comparison, Bradley Johnson and Alexander Tettey were more ambitious and attempted 115 passes (69% accuracy) with 33 passes in the final third.
Johnson and Tettey made 11 tackles between them (in comparison to Mbia and Derry’s 5 tackles) but the majority of those were made in the second half when QPR drove forward following the introduction of Zamora.
Adel Taarabt was the instigator behind QPR’s play but while he does provide skill in abundance, his tendency to hold on to possession for longer than required is frustrating and does not work in his team’s favour. It is also perhaps the main reason he hasn’t seriously been on the radar of bigger clubs yet.
The Moroccan playmaker touched the ball 79 times – the most by a QPR player –and gave away possession 25 times. But he created the highest number of chances (6) of any player on the pitch and nearly produced a sublime goal ten minutes into the match after riding three tackles before shooting inches wide of Mark Bunn’s right hand post.
To be fair to Taarabt though, his team’s emphasis on sitting deep resulted in little support provided to him. The defensive duties assigned to both wingers Townsend and Shaun Wright-Phillips meant that neither was particularly keen on marauding forward.
In matches before QPR became a stubborn defensive side, Taarabt and Wright-Phillips used to link up well; the diminutive winger often making runs ahead of the playmaker. In fact, the rare occasion on which they did link up in the same fashion resulted in Wright-Phillips skewing a decent chance wide of goal; much to the delight of the Canaries supporters who sang “Odemwingie, he would’ve scored that!.”
Additionally, Jamie Mackie’s movement and pace failed to match that of natural strikers like Remy or Cisse. As a result, Taarabt did not have options to play the ball in behind the Norwich defence; he attempted only one through ball in the entire match. Rangers’ transitions from defence to attack were too slow to worry Norwich in the first half, whereas in the second half they played at a higher tempo.
When it comes to teams playing with matching formations and similar type of players, a team’s deviation away from the norm can stir up proceedings. The Canaries movement upfront did just that multiple times in the match.
Grant Holt often dropped deep into midfield to give a more physical presence and hold up the ball, with Hoolahan making runs beyond him. The Irish attacking midfielder had two identical chances in the six-yard box – one put over the bar and the other brilliantly saved by Julio Cesar. On both occasions, Robert Snodgrass was the provider with a cross from the right and on both occasions, Holt was behind play whereas Hoolahan acted as a poacher ahead of him.
On another occasion in the first half, Hoolahan drifted wide right to cross for Snodgrass in the centre, only for him to head straight into the hands of Cesar. Snodgrass was Norwich’s best player; creating 3 chances, attempting 4 shots and putting in 15 crosses.
QPR’s substitutions provided the other ‘deviation from the norm’. Zamora replaced Wright-Phillips to partner Mackie and the home side switched to a 4-4-2. Taarabt moved to the left hand side, while Townsend switched flanks and ended up on the right. Later on, Jermaine Jenas also replaced Mbia to make his debut and to provide more control in midfield, though Esteban Granero may have been a wiser choice.
The presence of two strikers made an immediate impact with Zamora pressurizing Garrido into a poor back pass that resulted in Bunn conceding a penalty for a challenge on Mackie – all this only a minute after Zamora’s arrival. Of course, Bunn redeemed himself by saving Taarabt’s spot-kick.
Christopher Samba’s fitness levels made him a lesser threat than usual from set pieces but he was also well marshaled by the Norwich defence. In future matches, Samba’s presence both in attacking and defensive set-plays may define the outcome of the club’s season. He is a handy weapon to throw forward in need of a goal, like Blackburn Rovers often did.
The match opened up a bit in the latter stages but both goalkeepers stood firm to see out a goalless afternoon. Bunn parried stinging shots from Taarabt and Townsend, while Cesar did well to push away a Johnson drive.
On the basis of play, a draw was a fair result and one that suited Norwich more than QPR. Both teams canceled each other out for large parts of the match till one manager made the changes that opened the game up to an extent.
Harry Redknapp may have stopped the rot – conceding only once in their last five matches – but it has come at the expense of their attacking threat. Six points away from safety, QPR’s ability to grind out draws is not going to be enough to see them survive. But with the lack of attacking options, it is hard to see how they’ll grind out enough victories.