Shepherd’s Bush’s finest arrive in the Fine City in not-so-decent fettle having gone eight games without a win. Mark Warburton’s job is under threat and the Hoops tick every box going in a game of ‘along come Norwich’.
Whether that comes to fruition or not depends on how Daniel Farke’s finest react to the defeat at Vicarage Road; both the result and the manner of the defeat. For once, it wasn’t pretty.
That we are still four points clear is of some comfort – although Bournemouth’s Boxing Day postponement (vs Millwall) means they now have a game in hand – and a run of two consecutive home games followed by another in the FA Cup (against Coventry) offers the chance of a triple-bounceback all centred around the comforts of Colney.
Amidst the madness of an already fixture-heavy schedule and then the Christmas programme, let’s not underestimate the bonus of the players being able to stay home with their families for a prolonged spell.
The trick of course is translating that extra Colney time, and the need not to travel to the four corners, into freshness energy and vigour on the pitch.
What we do know is that one defeat after five straight wins won’t trigger any overreaction from the head coach. If Daniel Farke can remain calm and stoic during a run of ten straight Premier League defeats – some of them proper wallopings – then an odd-goal defeat in Watford is not going to hurtle him toward the panic button.
He may however choose to tweak and/or freshen up the side given the availability of some of our medium and long term injured. Christoph Zimmermann had a fairly miserable night in Hertfordshire and looks likely to make way for Ben Gibson who, apart from being a better player (in my view), offers balance to the back four with his natural left foot.
Xavi Quintilla for Jacob Sorensen is another change that could happen if they deem the Spaniard’s fitness levels sufficient for a start, and is also one that will add balance and a little more dynamism.
For the inevitable Tim Krul for Michael McGovern change, we may have to wait a little bit longer, but the square pegs are gradually returning to the square holes.
Another change Farke may consider is Mario Vrancic for Kieran Dowell, although – as demonstrated perfectly at Vicarage Road – the Bosnian is infinitely more effective when asked to operate from a deeper position where he has time to lift his head and pick out a pass.
Dowell is still finding his place in Farkeball 4.0 and it shows, but good players find a way and the ex-Everton man will only get better with more game time.
If Farke thinks City will have a lot of the ball tonight, then Vrancic in one of the deeper-lying midfield positions is an option, although the German has spoken of the need to manage the Bosnian carefully given his tendency to prefer time on the ball rather than the cut, thrust and high-octane energy of your average Championship midfield.
For what it’s worth – and I’m useless at this game – I’m going for…
As far as tonight’s opponents are concerned, they arrive off the back of a run of one win in ten and Warburton is under pressure. If ever a manager needed a win…
Despite selling Eberechi Eze to Palace in the summer, the Hoops had hoped to build on last season’s 13th place but just four wins in their 21 games have, so far, brought more consternation than joy in west London.
Of the current crop, two to look out for are Bright Osayi-Samuel and Ilias Chair; both of whom have risen above much of the mediocrity to be shining lights in what’s been a difficult campaign.
Osayi-Samuel is the heir apprent to Eze’s crown former; “an exciting winger with pace to burn and an eye for goal” is how QPR fans see him, although they’re expecting to lose him in January. A player in the shop window is always a dangerous player.
Chair is not expected to leave in January – even though the vultures are expected to circling come the summer – but the 5ft 2in 23-year-old Moroccan, signed from Antwerp in 2017, is just as capable as Osayi-Samuel and has the potential to hurt City tonight.
Two of the Hoops’ summer signings will also feature later. Rob Dickie, a towering centre-back who was reported to have been in City’s sights but opted for the glamour of Shepherd’s Bush, will have the job of shackling Teemu Pukki.
Lyndon Dykes was the other big summer signing and while the big Aussie-born striker made quite a name for himself this season, it’s mainly been in the navy of Scotland as opposed to the blue and white hoops. Rangers fans obviously hope that at some point his Scotland form will be replicated in W12.
In terms of style, Warburton’s men are more Brentford than Cardiff and will try and wrestle possession away from City but, equally, I’m not expecting them to be overly expansive, especially early on. Managers who are fighting for their jobs tend to proceed with caution.
So, it’s a tricky call, particularly with all its along come Norwich potential, but if we can slip into those pleasing rhythms while also passing the ball at a fair lick, then the horrors of Vicarage Road could be swiftly forgotten.
It’ll be twitchy though (when isn’t it?) but I’ll go City 2, QPR 1.