In the end, Queens Park Rangers simply went through the motions. The motions were heads shaken in disbelief, shoulders shrugged in despair, hands waving in attempts to blame teammates and, at the final whistle, faces buried in shirts.
A day after Burnley went down fighting, QPR surrendered, 6-0, at Manchester City to become the second club relegated from the Premier League this season.
“We didn’t really turn up,” Chris Ramsey the QPR manager, told Sky TV.
QPR’s display showed that formations are only as good as the players in them.
Ramsey returned to a three-man defense. The appeal of the formation was that QPR needed to win. Picking one less defender meant an extra attacking option in midfield. QPR tried the system earlier this season. It didn’t work, but nothing else has. QPR has the worst defense in the Premier League, conceding 67 goals – that's six more than Newcastle and 13 more than the third worst, Leicester.
On Sunday, QPR’s defenders couldn’t tackle, couldn’t win headers, couldn’t form a wall and couldn’t even control the ball. As Ramsey pointed out, three of the goals came from set pieces. That’s when QPR had everyone back to help.
“We shot ourselves in the foot,” Ramsey said. If so, it was just about the only QPR shot on target.
Ramsey has had to deal with the mess he inherited when Harry Redknapp took a knee and limped away in February. Redknapp’s penchant for seeking a shortcut to success with over-aged and over-paid players haunted QPR on the field all season and will haunt the club off the field this summer as it struggles to deal with the financial mess.
While Burnley is in good shape to bounce back, QPR faces serious problems. Over the summer, Burnley spent about $14.7 million on players, the least among Premier League clubs. The club also has the lowest Premier League wage bill, an estimated $33.2 million. The cynical might say that Burnley is prepared for relegation because it never planned for anything else. It has taken the money awarded to the club after its promotion and run. Maybe if it had spent as much as Leicester it too would be staying up.
Leicester’s wage bill is much larger at $55.7 million, but it's still the second lowest in the Premier league. It also spent $33 million, twice as much as Burnley, last summer. Yet those numbers show the problem facing promoted clubs. Leicester’s expenditure is relatively modest by Premier League standards. Over time, it would be unsustainable, and against the rules, in the Championship. Leicester ran up heavy losses the last two seasons putting itself in position to win promotion to the Premier League and then be competitive when it got there. Leicester’s gamble has paid off, at last. It beat Southampton on Saturday for its sixth victory in its last seven games. For relegated QPR, the bet is about to prove costly.
QPR’s transfer spending and high wage bill meant that it breached the Football League Financial Fair Play rules while wriggling out of the Championship last season. It has, so far, escaped punishment, shielded by the contemptuous way the Premier League deals with the lower divisions. Now the Football League can take revenge. If the league decides to include some £50 million of loans to the club that the owner, Tony Fernandes, wrote off last year, QPR could face a fine that might double the £50 million is estimated to cost an average club.
There will be buyers for Charlie Austin, but QPR will also need to sell some of its expensive veterans. After Sunday’s display it’s difficult to imagine many takers.
Baby Blues – It says something about English soccer’s desperation for young talent, and José Mourinho’s reputation for ignoring it, that the interview with the Chelsea manager before kick off against Liverpool on Sunday, focused entirely on the fact that he was actually giving a youth product, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, a start.
“I love to do it,” Mourinho told Sky TV straight-faced, before making clear that he was only picking the 19-year old because the match didn’t really matter. “He has the pressure of the big game without the pressure to win points to be champion.”
Another relatively young player, Kurt Zouma, was starting again. But Zouma, 20, isn’t a product of Chelsea’s youth system, He arrived having played 56 games for Saint-Etienne in France.
We won’t have any idea whether Loftus-Cheek can fulfill his potential until he’s played 60-odd games. On Sunday, he played 60 minutes.
Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool are not so afraid of youth. Rodgers started 20-year-old Raheem Sterling on Sunday. Liverpool looked stronger after Rodgers brought on two teenagers, Jordan Ibe and Jerome Sinclair, in the second half.
The game ended 1-1. John Terry headed Chelsea into the lead. Steven Gerrard nodded Liverpool level. They are a pair of old heads. But both came through their clubs’ development systems. They made their first team debuts a month apart in 1998. Sometimes it’s worth gambling on youth.
Lucky Black Cats – Lucky Sunderland leapt out of the bottom three on Saturday as it won, 2-0, at Everton while unlucky Hull lost, 1-0, at home to Burnley.
For Hull, Robbie Brady twice hit the bar from free kicks. At Goodison, Sunderland scored both of its goals from accidental miss-hits. Everton enjoyed 75 percent of possession, had 15 corners and took 22 attempts at goal. It couldn’t score. The first Sunderland goal came when a shot by Jordi Gómez hit the inside of Danny Graham’s thigh took a weird bounce and arced slowly past Tim Howard. It was Graham’s first league goal in his two seasons at Sunderland. He did not mean it. Sunderland’s second was even luckier. Adam Johnson’s horrible shot flew across goal and hit Jermaine Defoe on the knee, bounced up on to his hand and flopped into the goal. He did not mean it either. Defoe glanced guiltily across at the assistant referee and then wheeled in celebration.
“We deserved our luck,” Graham told the BBC, though the only reason he could offer was that Sunderland worked hard. So did Everton, and so, across the country, did Hull.
Bloody nose – Hull lost on Saturday after Burnley broke a scoring drought that had lasted more than 10 hours. It was able to do so because Hull’s center back, Michael Dawson, was off the field. He was a victim of a harsh law, but one he should have known. Dawson had won a header against Ashley Barnes who whacked an arm into his face. Referee Martin Atkinson saw nothing wrong. Barnes has a reputation after his clash with Nemanja Matic earlier this season. Perhaps that’s one reason why, after the ball went out for a Burnley corner, Dawson rushed up to Atkinson, enraged. By getting in the referee’s face all Dawson did was draw attention to his own. Barnes had given Dawson a bloody nose. Some drops had spilled down his chest. Atkinson reacted to the tantrum by sending Dawson to the sideline to change his shirt and wipe his nose. As he watched, Hull failed, twice to clear the corner. Danny Ings scored.
Going to Hull – Hull has never won a Premier League game in May. It is going to have to start soon. It has played one game more than one Sunderland and has much tougher fixtures than the other, Newcastle.
Hull has to travel to Tottenham and then entertains Manchester United. Newcastle, which until it drew with West Brom on Saturday, had looked as if it couldn’t even pick a point from a porcupine, goes to QPR and then hosts West Ham. Sunderland meanwhile entertains Leicester, travels to Arsenal and then hosts Chelsea.
That is, of course, if those opponents show up. Tottenham and West Ham played on Saturday as if they are already on holiday.