Preview: Queens Park Rangers

Last week’s win against Peterborough United sets up a run of three games that could change the complexion of Coventry City’s season. With the top six in danger of sailing out of view amid a run of poor form and fixture postponements, three points last Saturday leaves the Sky Blues five points off the play-offs, with two games in hand, and three games in the coming week against teams chasing the same goal.

Having just experienced such an extended poor run, there is a question as to whether this Coventry City side is ready to take on some of the division’s best, but the challenge of a league season is that a team cannot pick and choose when to play their toughest games. Starting with this home match against Queens Park Rangers, the Sky Blues are going to have to be at their best to take advantage of this opportunity to take a great step forward in a potential play-off push.

Expected Line-Up

Possible Line-Up (3-4-2-1): Wilson; Hyam, Rose, Clarke-Salter; Kane, Hamer, Sheaf, Bidwell; Allen, O'Hare; Godden.
Possible Line-Up

Injuries and Omicron makes it a tough time to accurately predict just what kind of a team Mark Robins will look to put out. Recent team selection calls, such as playing Ben Wilson in goal, Kyle McFadzean not being in the side and Jordan Shipley playing at wing-back, have largely been enforced on the manager and there is little telling whether he is of the mind to reverse them, or even if he has the option to.

After selecting Ben Wilson for last week’s league fixture against Peterborough United, with first-choice goalkeeper, Simon Moore, available, it looks to be the Wilson’s place in the side until he puts in a notable enough performance not to be. Similarly, it is hard to see Kyle McFadzean returning to a defence that has helped the team win back-to-back games.

The addition of Jake Bidwell to the squad will almost certainly see him take Jordan Shipley’s place in the side. The academy player looked for all the world to have played his last game for the club last week, but the move to loan out Tyler Walker and switch to a 3-4-2-1 system may change Shipley’s short-term prospects at Coventry City.

With one fewer striker currently available to the manager, it is hard to see Mark Robins moving to two up front, which he has tended to favour in home games this season. It puts a lot of the onus on a likely front three of Matt Godden (rumour that he is out for a few weeks, aside), Callum O’Hare and Jamie Allen to make their presences known and threaten one of the division’s best defences, but the formation has made the team overall look more cohesive, allowing Gustavo Hamer and Ben Sheaf in central midfield to flourish.

Last Time We Met

Coventry City’s trip to Queens Park Rangers earlier in the season highlighted just how important it is to get this team’s attacking set-up right. The better team for much of the opening hour, but unable to make the breakthrough, Mark Robins hamstrung the Sky Blues by making the needlessly drastic move of replacing the work-rate and presence Martyn Waghorn and Viktor Gyokeres were providing in attack with the poacher duo of Matt Godden and Tyler Walker.

Unable to get up the pitch, the momentum of the game flipped in favour of the opposition, QPR. Within eight minutes of the double substitution, Lyndon Dykes fired the home side ahead, before Yoann Barbet ended the game as a contest another eight minutes later.

At least there won’t be the option this time around of pairing two strikers so unsuited to one another’s game.

The Opposition

The Manager – Mark Warburton

The former Brentford manager has quietly re-established his reputation at Queens Park Rangers as a smart and adept coach who can improve the players he has to hand, following less successful stints at (Glasgow) Rangers and Nottingham Forest. After taking 18 months to put the building blocks in place at Loftus Road, the past year has seen QPR reap the rewards of Warburton’s blueprint for the club. The third-best team over the second-half of last season and currently sitting in fourth-place, QPR have a strong case for being the strongest non-parachute-payment-funded team in the Championship since the start of 2021.

A large reason why Queens Park Rangers have been so consistently good over the past 12 months has been the establishment of a strong defensive set-up, which has eventually allowed the team’s attacking players to flourish. While that defensive solidity has eroded somewhat over the course of this season, QPR remain a competitive side across the pitch that can hold onto leads when they have to, but with the flair and nous at the other end to turn things on when they have to. This is a very competent, well-balanced Championship team.

Who To Look Out For?

Possible Line-Up (3-4-1-2): Marshall; Dickie, Dunne, Barbet; Adomah, Johansen, Field, Wallace; Willock; Austin, Dykes.
Possible Line-Up

While Queens Park Rangers are without arguably their two best players – Seny Dieng in goal and Ilias Chair in attacking midfield – due to the African Cup of Nations, there is enough strength in depth in this side to overcome Dieng and Chair’s respective absences.

Experienced Scotland international, David Marshall has been recruited to step into Dieng’s place between the sticks. While Marshall, at 36 years old and having played little club football in recent times, is most definitely a stand-in option, playing behind a strong defensive unit eases his workload. QPR’s back three is led by Rob Dickie, who is both a solid defender and excellent in carrying the ball into midfield, Jimmy Dunne and Yoann Barbet alongside Dickie are perhaps less exciting to watch, but have proven to be reliable, consistent performers this season.

With defensive midfielder, Sam Field, another useful cog in this Queens Park Rangers machine, the Norway international, Stefan Johansen, begins the link into the attack with his box-to-box play, while also specialising in snapping at opponents’ heels when the desire takes him.

In the absence of Ilias Chair’s wizardry between the lines of midfield and attack, former Arsenal and Benfica youngster, Chris Willock, is being allowed the opportunity to come to the fore. Nominally a wide player, Willock is excelling in causing havoc in the middle of the pitch with his dribbling and all-round technical ability. The experienced Albert Adomah, operating at right wing-back, supplements QPR’s creative options.

Up front, Queens Park Rangers have three thoroughly competent Championship strikers to rotate between in Lyndon Dykes, Andre Gray and Charlie Austin. Joint top-scorer, Dykes, is the team’s battering ram in attack with his physical presence and work-rate. Andre Gray’s ability to run in behind remains a big threat, while Charlie Austin has made a number of key goalscoring contributions across this campaign.

Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost

This is set-up to be a clash between two teams with fairly similar approaches, with Coventry City boasting home advantage and Queens Park Rangers boasting greater experience. In terms of form, QPR have the edge, with three league wins on the bounce, compared to the Sky Blues’ one.

With confidence and fitness still in a state of recovery for Coventry City, sticking to the recent plan of pressing with intensity, rather than attempting a more intricate, passing approach, looks to be Plan A here. Against a QPR side that are much more comfortable passing the ball around the back than Peterborough United, the Sky Blues’ pressing is going to have to be especially aggressive and organised. Should QPR manage to play around the press, Ben Sheaf and Gustavo Hamer are going to have to be positionally aware enough to prevent Chris Willock in QPR’s number 10 position getting things going for his team on the counter-attack, otherwise the back three could be left particularly exposed for their lack of pace.

Getting Matt Godden, or whomever starts as the lone striker, into the game into areas from which they can threaten goal is another key area of Coventry City’s approach here. With the team likely to have less of the ball than last week, there is a risk that the centre-forward has to do too much work away from goal to be able to threaten it when the team gets into promising areas. This is likely to be a game that will come down to taking what few chances are created, it’s hard not to feel that QPR might have the edge in that regard.

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