Loftus Road, London
October 19, 2014; 12:30 GMT
Back in February 2010, Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool FC were all trying to lure a 15-year old English kid from QPR’s youth academy. This English boy was considered quite a prodigious talent, and had come close to becoming the youngest first-team player in British football history when QPR considered giving him a debut at the tender age of 14. Rafa Benitez took young Raheem Sterling around the training facility at Melwood, where they bumped into Fernando Torres. The Spaniard, who was probably the best striker in the world at the time, had a quick chat with young Raheem, and days later Liverpool had signed the starlet for a sum of around £400,000, with performance based add-ons that could drive the value as high as £5 million. On Sunday, the now 19-year old Sterling will travel to London to face off against his first club.
Queens Park Rangers – Team News And Tactics
QPR are sitting at the bottom of the Premier League table, with only one win from their 7 games, and a goal difference of -11. Manager Harry Redknapp has faced a fair bit of criticism for his team’s performances, and also for allegedly ‘looking tired’. Criticism has also come the way of summer signing Rio Ferdinand, who seems to be struggling to adjust in his new environment. It’s surely tough to move from a team that regularly were crowned champions to one that is battling for relegation, but more was expected of Rio.
Redknapp seems to be struggling to figure out his favored formation and starting 11 so far. He experimented with and dropped a 3 man back-line, and has since switched between a 4-5-1 and 4-3-1-2. Part of the problem is the wholesale changes made to the side over the summer. The spine of the team features Ferdinand, Steven Caulker, Leroy Fer and Sandro have all joined the London team only this summer. As a result they are far too dependent on the individual brilliance of players like Niko Kranjcar and Charlie Austin to produce the goals. Little wonder why they’ve only managed to produce only 4 so far.
QPR’s injury list includes Joey Barton and Jordan Mutch, while Kranjcar’s presence is also subject to his recovery from a broken toe in training this week. In all likelihood Redknapp will try to use the same tactic that has worked for the likes of Aston Villa and West Ham when facing Liverpool: press Steven Gerrard. Leroy Fer is likely to be given this task, with Sandro and Karl Henry playing in deeper positions to complete a midfield trio. A midfield pairing would be overrun by the Liverpool midfield, so a 4-3-3 would be the way to go, with Kranjcar and Junior Hoilett starting out wide and drifting to more central positions when QPR attack. Armand Traore provides a good defensive cover on the left flank, and Nedum Onuoha should get the nod over the somewhat more aggressive Mauricio Isla.
Two or more of Hoilett, Kranjcar and Austin combining either in a counter attack or in a set-piece are QPR’s most likely routes to goal. They’ll have to ensure that their shaky defence steps up, as they are likely to be bombarded by Liverpool’s attack.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Green(GK); Onuoha, Ferdinand, Caulker, Traore; Sandro, Henry; Hoilett, Fer, Kranjcar; Austin.
Liverpool FC – Team News And Tactics
On the injury front, Liverpool fans would have been supremely disappointed to hear that the much awaited return of Daniel Sturridge has been further delayed by a fresh calf injury. This right after Mario Balotelli had recently proclaimed that playing in a striker pairing suits him more than being fielded as a lone forward. Lazar Markovic and Dejan Lovren have both been injured in the international break, while Mamadou Sakho’s availability is also doubtful. Joe Allen and Emre Can could both be back after their respective injury lay-offs, though it would be hard for either to break into the Liverpool first team. Adam Lallana and Jordan Henderson are in incredible form, Raheem Sterling is the team’s best attacking threat and Steven Gerrard’s leadership is essential for the team, so there aren’t really any open spots for either Can or Allen to occupy.
That being said, there are valid reasons to drop one or both of Steven Gerrard and Raheem Sterling from the line-up. Sterling has been in the midst of a club-versus-country controversy with England manager Roy Hodgson claiming Sterling asked to be rested as he was feeling tired. Putting aside the ridiculousness of the whole affair, not to mention the incompetence with which Hodgson has handled the matter, Sterling may actually be at risk of burn-out having started nearly every game for Liverpool this season. Not to mention the psychological exhaustion that would come with being a 19-year old who’s now expected to create and score goals for his team every time he steps on the pitch.
As for Steven Gerrard, playing him as a deep lying midfielder, and therefore not allowing to Lucas Leiva to play in a similar position as a proper defensive midfielder, is at the root of Liverpool’s poor defensive record over the past year and a half. Not that the team’s central defenders have covered themselves in glory with their performances, but they deserve better cover than Gerrard offers. Against West Brom earlier this month, Lucas was subbed on and Gerrard moved to a more advanced role, and instantly he looked much more at ease and in his element. This isn’t to say that he should be started in the number 10 role, but there is a case to be made for not starting him in the deep midfield role.
The big question for Rodgers would be to decide whether he picks Balotelli as a lone striker or starts Fabio Borini alongside him. The strike pairing makes more sense as Markovic is a doubt, and therefore a 4-3-3/ 4-2-3-1 would result in either Philippe Coutinho, Sterling or Lallana playing on the right flank, where none of the three is really in his element. A 4-4-2 diamond would allow Rodgers to start with Gerrard or Lucas in the deep role, Henderson & Lallana in central midfield with license to drift wide or charge forward, and either Sterling or Philippe Coutinho as the number 10, pulling the strings up front.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-4-2): Mignolet(GK); Manquillo, Skrtel, Lovren, Moreno; Gerrard, Henderson, Lallana, Coutinho; Borini, Balotelli.
Player To Watch Out For: Niko Kranjcar
Niko Kranjcar seems to love playing for Harry Redknapp; in fact, he has supposedly taken a big cut in wages to complete his loan move from Dynamo Kyiv. The feeling seems to be mutual, with Harry Redknapp picking Niko as often as he can. It’s easy to see why the manager is fond of the Croat, who is a great addition to any attack. A Premier League veteran, he’s lethal from set-pieces (as seen in the game against Stoke City last month), comfortable with the ball at his feet, an incisive passer and capable of scoring goals. With Liverpool being vulnerable to goals from set-pieces, he could be the man to make a positive impact for QPR.
Queens Park Rangers 0 – 3 Liverpool FC
Liverpool may be off form, but QPR is very much in the pits as far as their performances are concerned. If Liverpool FC start the match at anything close to full steam, their going to crush the shaky QPR spine. Ferdinand and Caulker simply do not have the pace to handle the Liverpool attackers, and their midfield is yet to figure out how to get the ball into the feet of Charlie Austin. QPR’s manager and team have lacked the kind of energy and zeal needed to win in this league, and Liverpool would be happy to use them to jump start their season.