QPR in need of a playmaker
There was a commanding goalkeeping showing from Rob Green in the 1-0 defeat to Hull, marshalling his defence and looking impervious, especially when Tom Ince bore down on his goal unchallenged and looking certain to score. Meanwhile, barring his failure to mark James Chester for the game's only goal, Rio Ferdinand and his two teammates, Richard Dunne and Steven Caulker, in the Rangers' back three looked solid.
On the flanks there was what every team thrives on and all teams fear: pace. And the central triumvirate of Ale Faurlin, Joey Barton and Jordon Mutch was industrious and technically sound while in attack, Loic Remy looked like he wanted to play for QPR, and Charlie Austin typically posed a constant threat.
It seemed like nothing was missing -- it looked like a fully formed and complete team. But as the back line remained stoic, the midfield stayed dedicated and the strikers appeared alert, it was a touch of genius, a flash of guile and a moment of magic that was desperately lacking from the Rs' side.
Where there once was Yossi Benayoun poking and prodding the opposition defence there was, instead, Armand Traore. Where Niko Kranjcar used to languidly stroll around the final third, edging ever closer to a killer ball, there was Jordon Mutch. And in the place of the gifted show pony Adel Taarabt there was workhorse Joey Barton. It was a team well organised, a plan carried out, but it was easy to defend against -- it was predictable.
Mutch showed enough to prove he is a steal at 6 million pounds. He is a powerful midfielder with a turn of pace, he times his runs into the box well, and on another day he would have struck twice. But he is no playmaker and nor are Barton, Faurlin, Junior Hoilett, Matty Phillips or Bobby Zamora.
Benayoun was, Kranjcar was, when on loan Tom Carroll and Ravel Morrison looked like they could eventually become playmakers and Taarabt is one and so much more -- too much more. But where is the No. 10 Harry Redknapp has been asking for and fans have been dreaming of?
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It sounds like Kranjcar's wage demands are the sticking point blocking a return for him, and while his contribution to promotion hasn't been forgotten, he looked well out of shape during his loan last season and he may not get away with such play in the Premier League.
Rafael van der Vaart is now a fixed topic at Redknapp's news conferences and while he probably could be lured from Hamburg, his superb ability masks a soft underbelly. During his two full seasons at Tottenham, he was substituted in 35 Premier League matches. He's 31 now and that sort of durability and reliability is unlikely to have improved with age, especially against the demanding rigours of England's top-tier football.
As the tragic footage of Taarabt training away from the rest of the Rangers squad showed last week, the maverick Morocco international looks out of shape and out of favour. Redknapp refused to take him on the preseason tour of Germany due to the condition he came back in from his summer holiday, and relations between the pair have not improved.
Even the most ardent Rs should start questioning Taarabt's commitment to the club, even if Redknapp is not to their taste. At West Ham he got the best out of the erratic Paulo Di Canio and at Portsmouth he had Paul Merson playing effervescent football despite the former Arsenal midfielder later admitting he was battling alcohol and gambling problems during his rich vein of form.
So where will Rangers find a playmaker? Of all positions and persuasions, the role of orchestrator is the most difficult to fill. It's the part that even the hardest-working footballer can't play. It's reserved for football's free-spirited renaissance painters and the closest Rangers have right now are trustworthy council decorators.