Reviving Rangers: Five challenges for Hughes to address
Welshman must fix a leaky defence and buy astutely this month to keep QPR in top flight
1. Improve the squad
Queen's Park Rangers' squad is what it is: a very good Championship-winning outfit adorned by a hurriedly-assembled collection of Premier League players. Neil Warnock only had days to work with new owner Tony Fernandes' money at the end of last summer's transfer window. There is, unfortunately, not enough quality at either end of the pitch.
Mark Hughes will need to choose well this month to bring in the required talent. He has a good eye for a player and a good record on a budget. For Blackburn Rovers, Hughes signed Christopher Samba and Roque Santa Cruz for £450,000 and £3.5m respectively. At Manchester City he bought Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta for £6m each. And at Fulham he signed Moussa Dembélé for £5m. More of this bargain-hunting is required this month.
2. Replace Ale Faurlin
Warnock's was not the only traumatic recent loss for QPR: Argentine midfielder Alejandro Faurlin ruptured a cruciate ligament on Saturday, and will miss the rest of the season.
Comfortably Rangers' best player so far this season, Faurlin is a naturally gifted midfielder who, unlike his team-mates, is consistently able to pass to other players in hooped shirts. QPR's attacks start with him, and no one is better at releasing their wide men, Jamie Mackie and Shaun Wright-Phillips. Hughes, somehow, needs to replace Faurlin's imagination and precision with the ball at his feet. There are not many available like him.
3. Revamp the defence
Rangers' main problem so far this season has been conceding too many soft goals. A recent 3-2 home defeat to Sunderland came about after two free headers from corners and a clumsy back-header from Danny Gabbidon.
This has largely been down to personnel neither good enough nor settled enough to keep the required number of clean sheets. Matthew Connolly, Anton Ferdinand, Gabbidon, Fitz Hall, Clint Hill and Bruno Perone have all played centre-back this season. Hughes needs to establish a sturdy back four as quickly as possible, and may need to buy players to do so. Nedum Onuoha, who performed very well under Hughes for City, should be attainable, as might Wayne Bridge. The current back line will not hold.
4. Inspire Shaun Wright-Phillips
When Wright-Phillips is on form he can discomfort nearly any full-back in the Premier League, and has the ability to score from distance or from tight spaces. While it appears that the 30-year-old has not produced his best form since he joined Chelsea in 2005, Wright-Phillips did have a good spell under Hughes at City.
During the first few months of the 2009-10 season, during which Hughes was dismissed, he was an indispensable player, harrying up and down the right flank in Hughes's favoured 4-2-4 system. He helped out defensively, pinning back the opposition and always aimed towards goal.
If Hughes can summon the best out of Wright-Phillips he has a well-primed weapon to shoot Rangers to safety.
5. Get the best out of Adel Taarabt
The captain and catalyst for last season's promotion, the mercurial Taarabt has been in and out of the team this season, spending a long spell on the bench before recently returning to the first XI. He is currently playing at the African Cup of Nations for Morocco, meaning that QPR are unlikely to be able to sell him. They had hoped for £15m from Paris Saint-Germain last summer.
This means that Hughes is left with a brilliant but surly player for the remainder of the season. If he is fully integrated as a starter, playing as a No 10, it will force Joey Barton, who replaced Taarabt as captain, to play either deeper or on the right flank. The two have not combined particularly well over recent months.
If Hughes does not trust Taarabt with a regular role, he may have a useful impact substitute but risks having an unhappy player at the club for the rest of the season.
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