Unsurprising, Julio César was once again a central figure for Queens Park Rangers. Linked with a move to Real Madrid during the week, there must have been a temptation to move the Brazilian on to relieve what can only be described as a heaving wage bill at Loftus Road. But Harry Redknapp has persistently reiterated his desire to keep the former Inter Milan stopper, and it’s easy to understand why, despite having Rob Green as back-up. While César struggled to cope with a swirling wind and wet conditions at QPR’s atmospheric ground, a stunning save on the stroke of half-time was the highlight of a clsoe match. The 31-year-old had flapped at a number of corners and crosses in the first half, which caused inevitable alarm among his defence – and on the QPR bench. Indeed, he was fortunate to escape unpunished when a weak punch fell to Joleon Lescott and the defender thrashed his effort over the crossbar. If it had been Sergio Aguero or Carlos Tévez, there would have been a vastly different outcome. With QPR flagging as half-time approached, Tévez teed up Gareth Barry on the edge of the area, and the midfielder’s driven left-footed effort appeared destined for the top corner, before César pushed it past his right post at full-stretch. The save drew applause from his rival Joe Hart and lifted the Loftus Road crowd, who were chanting his name at the interval. With City struggling to register an attempt in the second half, César was still alert to deny David Silva from point-blank range in the 82nd minute and ensure QPR were rewarded with a point for a battling display.
Mark Hughes lauded QPR’s capture of Esteban Granero in August. Arriving from Real Madrid, the Spanish midfielder joined Inter Milan goalkeeper César and Manchester United’s versatile Park Ji-Sung in the Hoops revolution. Hughes persisted with the 25-year-old despite a poor start to the season, but the Welshman’s successor lacked the same patience. Granero spent the best part of the festive period on the substitutes bench, and after featuring in a 4-2 loss to MK Dons, it was a surprise to see the former Los Blancos man start against City. If Redknapp hoped his choice words after the FA Cup fourth-round defeat would prove motivational (Granero was not exempt to the manager’s scathing criticism), the Hoops boss was left bitterly disappointed. Granero was abysmal in the first half – with and without the ball. He was guilty of conceding cheap fouls in dangerous positions around the QPR area, with César struggling to adjust to the blustery conditions at Loftus Road. The former Getafe man gave away possession cheaply in key midfield areas, while his set-piece execution equally as poor. When QPR finally relieved pressure and gained a rare corner, Granero’s short set-piece failed to produce an end product as he was dispossessed and left to chase Gael Clichy. With Redknapp contemplating an early change midway through the first half, Granero could count himself lucky to make it past the interval, although it got worse for the Spaniard as he received a yellow card for yet another indiscretion midway through the second period. The QPR fans have also grown tired of the midfielder’s poor performances, and Granero was booed when he ushered Adel Taarabt away from a 78th-minute free-kick, before blasting his effort into the stands.
When asked earlier this month to pinpoint the difference between City and Manchester United this season, Roberto Mancini replied Robin van Persie. With City pipping United to the Premier League title on goal difference last season, it highlighted the importance of being clinical. But the Citizens have scored 13 goals less than the Red Devils in the Premier League this term, and their top scorer Edin Dzeko, who was benched for the trip to QPR, has a modest 10 goals in comparison to Van Persie’s 19! Undoubtedly, City have lacked a cutting edge, with Tévez struggling to find the net regularly, while Aguero has endured a stop-start season because of injuries. The former Atlético Madrid man was the most-lively of City’s strikers but still rarely looked like troubling César – he fluffed his one clear chance to test the Hoops keeper. In frustration, the 24-year-old resulted to optimistic long-range attempts that drifted wide and into a jubilant QPR crowd. City’s best chance fell to Silva eight minutes from full-time. The Citizens dissected the home side’s ailing defence but the former Valencia man was unable to tuck his finish past Cesar.
Ryan Nelsen ended his brief six-month career at QPR with a credible draw against the defending Premier League champions. The 35-year-old has opted to take charge of MLS side Toronto and leaves QPR to their relegation fight. On first glance, it could be deemed a miserable spell at the west London side, who are in 20th position. But remarkably, aside from a 3-0 thrashing by Liverpool, QPR have been defensively sound over the festive period, aided by Redknapp’s arrival – and Nelsen. In fact, only Sunderland and West Ham have better defensive records than QPR in the bottom half of the table. The New Zealander’s experience has been a vital commodity, and Nelsen and Clint Hill, who was restored to the starting line-up since Redknapp took charge, have formed a dogged and resolute partnership. Aside from a 5-0 loss to Swansea on the opening day of the season, QPR have been solid at Loftus Road, picking up credible goalless draws against Chelsea, Tottenham and Mancini’s men. With Anton Ferdinand leaving for Turkey on loan, Redknapp will need to find a suitable replacement for Nelsen.
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