Queens Park Rangers have a core of young players who’ve really pulled them through this season, but why weren’t they performing last time round under Steve McClaren? And how has Mark Warburton made such drastic steps forward since his summer appointment?
McClaren’s QPR appointment ahead of the 2018/19 Championship season was met with hysterical, uncontrollable jeers from opposing fans, and QPR fans themselves weren’t keen on the move either. But the ‘wally with the brolly’ didn’t do half as bad as people expected him to – he was of course, sacked before the season concluded, but he bowed out with a 34.8% win ratio which was better than both Ian Holloway and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink before him.
Looking back at the team QPR had last season, it wasn’t all that different to the side that Warburton inherited last summer. They had that core group of young players who are still with the club today – the likes of Ebere Eze, Ryan Manning, Ilias Chair and Bright Osayi-Samuel – but McClaren also had players like Luke Freeman, Massimo Luongo, Matt Smith and Pawel Wszolek.
He arguably had a better side than what Warburton has today, but QPR are so much further ahead in terms of their development and prosperity than they were this time last year, making Warburton the defining factor. Under McClaren, life as a QPR fan was grim. The football was typical of a manager who was so scared of getting the axe – it was heavily focused on defending (and not even to a good standard), going into games thinking ‘how many will we conceded today’ rather than ‘how many can we score’.
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That mantra strangled all of QPR’s attacking worth. Nahki Wells finished the season as the club’s top-scorer with nine goals in all competitions, contributing seven to the 53 goals that QPR scored in 46 Championship games – Warburton’s QPR scored their 53rd league goal of this season in the 2-1 win over Derby County last month. Watching McClaren’s QPR was unbearable because he had the players, and he had just about enough tactical know-how to get the best out of them, but he held them back.
QPR gave John Eustace the reigns when McClaren was sacked in April of last year, and the club took their time before finding the next permanent replacement. Two things were on their agenda – a manager who has a proven track record of working with, and developing young players, and one who isn’t afraid to entertain and take risks on the pitch. Step forward, ex-Brentford boss and the ‘breadman’ himself, Warburton. His QPR side are fearless, and that bravery Warburton has so distinctly instilled is first of all evident, but most of all, effective.
Look at Eze – the ‘golden boy’ of this QPR side. He’s scored 12 goals in all competitions and has created eight more, asserting himself as one of the best and most talked about players in the EFL, and setting himself up for a summer move up into the Premier League where he rightly belongs. Last season, he only scored four goals in all competitions, creating as many. The stats don’t lie when it comes to football, and that should tell you all you need to know about Warburton’s QPR compared to McClaren’s.
They’ve boasted one of the best attacking records throughout the whole campaign despite spending most of it in the bottom-half of the table. Yes, defensively QPR have been very poor at times, but so what? They’re still scoring goals and if anything, the fans appreciate the entertainment value that Warburton’s brought to the club, even if it has been at the expense of conceding five at Barnsley, four at home to Nottingham Forest and a handful of other damning examples. Fortune favours the brave in football, and QPR are a prime example of that.