Preview: Queens Park Rangers

It is officially a good start to the season. Three wins out of four, fourth-place in the division and playing some excellent football to boot. What happens next will provide an indication as to both the quality and ambition of this young Coventry City side.

With a tougher run of games ahead, starting with this trip to Loftus Road, it will become apparent whether this is genuinely good Sky Blues outfit or one that has perhaps been a little fortunate with a soft early run of fixtures. The points on the board provide the freedom for this side to attempt to go toe-to-toe with some of the better teams in the division, which should make for some entertaining games.

Expected Line-Up

Possible Line-Up (3-4-2-1): Moore; Hyam, McFadzean, Rose; Dabo, Hamer, Sheaf, Maatsen; Allen, O'Hare; Gyokeres.
Possible Line-Up

The absences of Michael Rose and Jake Clarke-Salter last time out led Mark Robins into moving Fankaty Dabo away from right wing-back, until that later corrected. If that central defensive duo remains absent, the manager is unlikely to make the same decision, given how integral Dabo has been as a wing-back, in tandem with Ian Maatsen on the left, in the team’s attacking play.

As impressive as Ben Sheaf was in central defence while the team were chasing the game against Reading, the likelihood of at least one of Michael Rose or Jake Clarke-Salter returning for this game means that it is an experiment that is unlikely to continue. If both Rose and Clarke-Salter are at full fitness, it leaves Mark Robins with a big decision to make as to which of them makes up the defence, with Rose probably the favoured option given this pre-existing relationship with Dominic Hyam and Kyle McFadzean.

The other big decision for this game is how to set up the midfield and attack. Mark Robins has preferred a 3-4-1-2 system in the early part of this campaign, but concerns over Martyn Waghorn’s early form for the club may make a 3-4-2-1 more attractive, with Jamie Allen coming into the side. Matt Godden’s lack of fitness, despite scoring last week’s winning goal, further pushes the decision towards the 3-4-2-1.

Last Time We Met

Coventry City’s last game against Queens Park Rangers was the point last season where fears of relegation crystallised. It was an especially concerning performance in the context of it coming after a two-week break in early April. Instead of looking fresh and ready to attack the remainder of the campaign, the Sky Blues looked tired and timid against a composed and merciless Queens Park Rangers side.

With Julien Dacosta in particularly poor form at right wing-back, QPR attacked down his side to take the lead within two minutes, through a Chris Willock header. Michael Rose then continued his annus horribilis of 2020/21 by scoring an own goal from a corner 20 minutes later, effectively ending the game as a contest.

The Sky Blues improved in the second-half, thanks to the introductions of Callum O’Hare, Tyler Walker and Viktor Gyokeres. However, that rally was quickly killed off by Dacosta sloppily giving the ball away, QPR breaking and Marko Marosi making a pig’s ear of an Ilias Chair effort to make it 3-0, effectively ending the keeper’s Coventry City career in the process.

The Opposition

The Manager – Mark Warburton

Having had a bit of a hard time in his managerial career following the impressive job he did at Brentford, Mark Warburton has proved that he is a capable, forward-thinking manager in his time at Queens Park Rangers. Benefitting from a level of patience from those in charge, Warburton has gradually transformed QPR from an inconsistent mid-table outfit into a side with a genuine shot of making the play-offs this season.

Off the back of a strong end to last season, where QPR were the third-best team in the division since January, the Hoops have started this season strongly, unbeaten after four games. Benefitting from a solid defensive framework, QPR move the ball around with confidence and purpose, possessing a number of difference-making attacking players to provide variation to their forward threat. They have done nothing thus far to place in doubt their ability to make the top six this season.

Who To Look Out For?

Possible Line-Up (4-2-3-1): Dieng; Kakay, Dunne, Dickie, Barbet; Ball, Johansen; Adomah, Willock, Chair; Austin.
Possible Line-Up

Seny Dieng in goal and Rob Dickie in central defence are the platform from which this Queens Park Rangers side is built. Helpfully, not only are both Dieng and Dickie excellent in the basics of goalkeeping and defending, respectively, but both are very well-rounded, technical footballers who set the tone for QPR building the play at the back.

Another key tone-setter for this QPR side is Stefan Johansen in central midfield. Like Matty James for the Sky Blues last season, Johansen is a slightly unorthodox kind of leader in midfield in that his authority derives from the quality and purpose he offers in possession rather than through physicality or aggression.

Ahead of Johansen, Ilias Chair and Chris Willock have really come to the fore for QPR now that the defence has been settled. Chair is an impish magician in the mould of predecessors Adel Taarabt and Ebere Eze, while Willock – brother of Newcastle United’s Joe Willock – is nominally a winger, but has impressed with his technical ability in central areas and ability to get into the penalty box. Furthermore, the experienced Albert Adomah offers extra creativity from the bench, assisting five times last season from just seven starts.

In attack, Charlie Austin and Lyndon Dykes are going to provide the Sky Blues defence with a stern inspection of their physical acumen. Dykes is a relentless runner up front who can dominate opponents physically. Since the arrival of natural goalscorer, Austin, Dykes has become more of a goal-threat himself, perhaps benefitting from the attention that Austin draws. The issue is that if a team devotes too much attention to stopping one of QPR’s strikers, it frees up space for the other – plus the other excellent attacking midfield players they have.

Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost

This is going to be, by far, the biggest test of the season for this Coventry City side. Away at a Queens Park Rangers side that is not only a very good footballing side but possesses a fair deal of physicality and intensity, there won’t be any room for anyone in Sky Blue to hide in this game.

The biggest concern from a Coventry City perspective heading into this game is how open the team leaves itself on the counter against a side that has the attacking players to take advantage of such opportunities. Mark Robins may have to consider asking the midfield to set themselves up a little more conservatively in order to avoid leaving the back three exposed in one-on-one situations.

Another concern is whether the Sky Blues will be able to impose themselves on this QPR side in the same way they have done against other teams this season. Ben Sheaf and Gustavo Hamer are going to have to work hard to get the team on the ball, while Viktor Gyokeres will do well to get on top of Rob Dickie in the QPR defence.

The biggest threat for Coventry City in this game is likely to be on the counter-attack, where QPR are adjusting to a back four due to an injury crisis. That should provide the opportunity for Callum O’Hare to thrive in this game, and if his decision-making can sharpen up just a little bit, he could be the match-winner for the Sky Blues.

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