High-flying Everton are the visitors to Loftus Road on Sunday to take on a Queens Park Rangers side hunting their first win of the season.
With pressure building on manager Mark Hughes, out-of-form players, defensive fragility and discontent growing in the stands, can the R's turn it around?
What’s the story?
No victories so far and a sum total of two points from seven games are not doing much for Hughes’ blood pressure, or his job security.
Despite hopes that things would improve as new players settled in and the squad found a new fluidity, Rangers remain as ineffective as ever in almost every department.
The 3-2 defeat away to West Bromwich Albion was not as close a game as the score line may suggest. QPR were consummately outplayed, and despite nearly snatching a draw through Jose Bosingwa, netted twice through outstanding moments of individual brilliance, nothing else.
Last time out at Loftus Road the R’s fell victim to the bullying, all guns blazing style of West Ham United, who ran riot in front of the Sky cameras, picking up bookings for almost every player as they tore the hosts apart.
This cannot happen again, and Hughes knows it. Tony Fernandes may have given his backing to the beleaguered boss, but in modern football the “vote of confidence” from a chairman or owner counts for little to nothing and is often a sign of dissatisfaction reaching boiling point.
With the injury crisis slowly diminishing, the time for excuses is over. Supporters appear to be fairly split over Hughes’ future at the club, some feeling it would be counter-productive to topple him at this stage, and others adamant he must go.
Whatever your viewpoint, fans are united in their assessment that this simply can’t go on.
Remind me of last time
In March this year Rangers took a point off the Toffees at Loftus Road, Bobby Zamora heading in an equaliser after a stunning goal from Royston Drenthe had given the visitors the lead.
QPR twice hit the woodwork in their search for a winner, through Adel Taarabt and Akos Buzsaky, but Everton held firm to, in a wonderful example of déjà vu, heap further pressure on the home side’s Welsh gaffer.
An interesting point about this game was that it kick-started a revolution in the R’s form in W12.
Having lost twice prior to facing David Moyes’ side, to Wolves and Fulham, Hughes’ rampant charges went on to win their next five games in a row on home turf.
It was this run that kept Rangers afloat last time, and boy do they need a similar change of fortune this time around.
Who’s the boss?
As mentioned previously, it is one of the greatest managers in the Premier League, a man who has consistently dealt with a miniscule transfer budget, the departure of leading players, and the advent of money-powered success in the top flight.
Moyes, often touted as a possible replacement for Sir Alex Ferguson when his fellow Scotsman finally chews his last packet of Wrigleys as Manchester United boss, has been with the Merseyside club for a decade.
He has been an integral reason as to why Everton, 2003-04 besides, have never been in any hint of relegation trouble and consistently batted with England’s big hitters.
Known for being able to work miracles with ever-decreasing finances, it speaks volumes that the £6m spent on forward Nikica Jelavić was a “major investment”.
His side boasts several highly-regarded players, such as Leighton Baines, Phil Jagielka, Steven Pienaar, Jelavić and Marouane Fellaini, who form the core of a team that have made as good a start to the campaign as Manchester United, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur.
It should also be mentioned that Moyes was named September’s Premier League manager of the month in another deserved accolade for the talented 49-year-old.
How have they been doing lately?
To repeat the above, Everton are in terrific form. A 2-2 draw with Wigan Athletic, in the end, was a good result for the resurgent Toffees, who stole a point in the 87th minute thanks to a Baines penalty.
Despite being knocked out of the Capital One Cup by Leeds United, victories either side of this embarrassment against Southampton (3-1) and away to Swansea (3-0), hint at a side brimming with confidence that are hardly goal shy.
A famous win on the opening day against United set the tone for this season – Everton will be up there battling for European football, providing Jelavić stays in form and Moyes can keep his team together in January.
While both aren’t guaranteed, the Toffees mean business and have averaged two points per game already this season, scoring more goals than Spurs and Arsenal.
Can I have a bit of team news please?
Mark Hughes’ pre-match press conference revealed that the R's are nearly back to full strength, and not before time.
Fabio may still miss out, while Andy Johnson is a long-term absentee, but Samba Diakite is back from suspension and Armand Traore could even make the squad – despite chronically lacking match practice.
Anton Ferdinand and Bosingwa have come back to full fitness, the former hoping to put his abysmal display at The Hawthorns behind him.
Diakite’s return to the side is a godsend given the poor form of Ji-sung Park and limited defensive solidity of Alejandro Faurlin, Esteban Granero and Taarabt, while one can only hope that a settled defence can prevent Everton making a fool of Julio Cesar as the Hammers were able to.
Despite a plethora of calls for him to be given a first-team berth, Junior Hoilett appears likely to be left out again, with Shaun Wright-Phillips retaining his pride of place on the right flank.
The visitors will mercifully be without fiery Belgian Fellaini, who is out with a knee injury, while Darron Gibson and Tony Hibbert are also ruled out. Thomas Hitzlsperger, a new signing at Goodison Park, will not be considered for the trip to W12.
One positive for QPR is that Everton will have been hit harder by the recent international break, but whether this will make much difference by Sunday remains to be seen.
As mentioned earlier, it was a draw at home to Everton which spurred the club’s moves towards survival last season. Anything similar this time around would be very timely, and much appreciated in Shepherd’s Bush.
QPR have only lost to Everton once at home in 25 years, back in the 1994-95 season. Rangers have won 10 of 24 games between the two sides at Loftus Road, while Everton have come away with seven victories in total from west London.
Back in the 1975-76 season, the R’s beat the Merseysiders 5-0. A repeat of this, and not of the record 5-1 loss two years later, would be great. Let's hope Hughes and the boys are reading.
How do you think we’ll do?
In all likelihood a draw would be a very good result, but Everton aren’t invincible. Conceding twice against the Latics showed a certain vulnerability that a more confident side would look to exploit – but confident QPR are not.
Supporters have almost become resigned to losing and accepting of the fact that things won’t be getting any better for quite a while, a very sad state of affairs indeed.
If Hughes’ tactical decisions are spot on, the R’s can turn it around here, but anything more than a point apiece is wishful thinking. Sadly, Rangers’ defensive vulnerability is so acute that a clean sheet is almost out of the question.
From an attacking perspective, with Djibril Cissé in poor form, Zamora the main goal threat, and Hoilett yet to be properly unleashed, it once again falls to Adel Taarabt, as it did against West Brom, to mount the team’s offensive challenge.
I’ll go for a 1-1 draw, in a fit of optimism, with a goal coming from Park, who has been deeply underwhelming since swooping in from the Red Devils in a fit of publicity and self-congratulation.
Will the international break have revitalised Rangers? How do you think we'll do against Everton? Leave your comments below, post on our message board or tweet us @qprnet