For a team featuring five former Champions League finalists Queen's Park Rangers' results this season have been surprising. Mark Hughes' team have taken two points from 18, sit firmly in the relegation zone, and with their next three opponents being West Bromwich Albion (away), Everton (home) and Arsenal (away), could reach November still seeking a win.
Click here to see our graphic of the QPR squad since the were awarded promotion to the Premier League
Given the obvious quality in the squad their travails seems perplexing, but the answer is easy to find. Rangers have been dogged by chronic instability off the pitch for some years, though Neil Warnock still somehow managed to haul them back into the top flight 16 months ago. Since then the unrest has spread to the pitch.
When Stephane Mbia made his league debut during Monday's night's home defeat to West Ham he wore the No 40. It should have been 45, as that is how many players QPR have used in the 44 matches since returning to the top flight. The clubs promoted with them, Norwich and Swansea, have used 33 and 31 players respectively in that time. Newcastle United and West Bromwich Albion, promoted the previous season and still prospering, each used 37 players in their first two full seasons back in the top flight. Like QPR, all four clubs changed managers in this period.
QPR's scattergun selection process is partly explained by last year's takeover saga. When Tony Fernandes bought the club there was only a fortnight left to the end of the transfer window. Starved of funds by Bernie Ecclestone and Flavio Briatore, Warnock had been forced to strengthen his Championship-winning squad with free transfers and cast-offs such as Jay Bothroyd and Danny Gabbidon. An opening day 4-0 home defeat to Bolton highlighted the improbability of that squad surviving. When Fernandes took over Warnock signed who he could, bringing in players such as Joey Barton and Shaun Wright-Phillips. As his then-coach Keith Curle revealed in these pages yesterday, the need for haste meant they were not able to check out players' characters as thoroughly as they would like. Add the higher salaries of the new recruits and the seeds of dressing-room discontent had been sown. Nevertheless, Warnock kept the team outside the bottom three and went into January hoping to make a more measured dip into the transfer window. Instead Fernandes replaced him with Hughes.
Now the pick-and-mix selection policy went into overdrive. In the 24 matches under his command Hughes has deployed a staggering 35 players. Back in 1980-81 Aston Villa won the 42-match league title with 14.
Injuries have not helped, but every club suffers from them. Suspensions have been another problem, Samba Diakité's sending off on Monday was QPR's 10th red card since returning to the Premier League.
In attempting to upgrade a team that survived last season on goal difference, Hughes signed a dozen new players taking his spending to around £30m and pushing the wage bill to dangerous levels for a club with an average gate of 17,000, especially as few have much sell-on value.
Hughes has done his best to trim the squad with several players feeling forced out after being told to train with the youngsters and to report to the training ground at inconvenient times. Nevertheless, even with DJ Campbell becoming the fifth player loaned out yesterday he still has 28 senior players. And if the squad has been reduced the wage bill has not, as inherited players have demanded a measure of parity with new signings.
There are only 11 players in a team so even with pay rises and a busy treatment room there are a lot of disgruntled footballers at the club and the training ground is understood to be an unhappy place. Barton may be across the Channel but disruptive influences remain and some surprising names are said to be among the malcontents.
In the boardroom, with Fernandes and chief executive Phil Beard still learning about the football industry, the likes of Kia Joorabchian have had unusual influence. Since he is Hughes' adviser the manager still has time, but he needs results soon because Rangers simply cannot afford to be relegated. QPR have become, probably to Hughes' surprise, his most demanding challenge as a manager.
Rangers' medal men: Champions League
QPR's Champions League finalists:
Djibril Cissé (Liverpool, 2005), Park ji-Sung (Man Utd, 2009 & 2011), Julio Cesar (Internazionale, 2010), Fabio da Silva (Man United, 2011), Jose Bosingwa (Chelsea, 2012)
1. Who needs host countries for football tournaments?
Last year these pages considered printing a spoof April Fool story claiming the group stages of 2022 World Cup would be played in various countries around the world, with the teams only travelling to Qatar for the knock-out games to alleviate the effects of the heat. Now it appears the Uefa president, Michel Platini, (who infamously voted for Qatar) is set upon a similar structure for the 2020 European Championship. Football: too crazy to lampoon.
2. Harsh on Hodgson that conversation was leaked
One of the great things about London is that it is possible for such recognisable figures as Seb Coe, Roy Hodgson and Ken Livingstone to travel on the underground without being unduly pestered. What a pity some greedy co-traveller, unburdened by scruples, has cashed in on the England manager's preparedness to engage with the public. The subsequent coverage has done the newspaper trade no credit either.
3. Vacancy: Manager of club with loyal, clueless owners
It is hard to tell whether the Blackburn Rovers job is a good one, or a bad one. Clearly the people running Rovers, in India and Lancashire, have no idea what they are doing, but equally, their steadfastness to Steve Kean shows they are not the type to fire a manager as soon as the going gets tough. One thing is certain, there will be no shortage of applicants for a post which could easily be a ticket to the Premier League.
4. FA target coaches in latest money-making scheme
The Football Association are keen to promote their Licensed Coaches Club, an admirable idea which encourages grassroots coaches to keep up-to-date and makes it easier for clubs and schools to check qualifications. Some coaches, however, feel the £12-a-year club is a money-making venture and the £12 further charge for completing a mandatory online safeguarding children course every three years does nothing to dispel that notion.
5. Preston's pride is mocked by Risdale's presence
How can Preston North End retain Peter Ridsdale as chairman of football? Ridsdale, now on his fifth club in a variety of capacities, has been disqualified from being a company director for seven-and-a-half years. The Insolvency Service found £347,000 of fees went into a personal account instead of those of a company he ran which then went bust owing £440,000 in unpaid taxes? Apart from 'Proud' Preston's inability to see the shame of the situation there can hardly be a clearer case of someone who should fail the Football League's fit-and-proper person test.