Aston Villa's big mid-week win over Reading pulled Aston Villa out of the bottom three and brought some peace of mind to Aston Villa fans. Can a young team badly in need of confidence build on their success against the Royals, or will a winless but new-look QPR prove to be a trap game?
The unfortunate thing about the position in which Aston Villa find themselves is that there isn't a whole lot of time to enjoy a win. That's especially true given the fact that Queens Park Rangers are another team against which Villa can't afford to lose; in a different situation a letdown might not be so unpleasant a proposition, but with the way things stand the positive vibes from Tuesday's 1-0 would be pretty much immediately cancelled out by a defeat at Loftus Road. The good news is that QPR has been atrocious this season; winless in 14, fewest goals scored, and with the worst goal difference in the league. The bad news is that Mark Hughes is no longer and charge, and the man who replaced him knows a thing or two about rescuing seemingly lost causes.
Tony Fernandes' overhaul of QPR is a fairly well-known story at this point. Last season saw established players such as Bobby Zamora, Djibril Cisse, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Anton Ferdinand join the side, giving them just enough juice to stay in the league. The investment was kicked up a notch in the summer, with Samba Diakite, Park Ji-Sung, Junior Hoilett, Jose Bosingwa, Esteba Granero, Stephane Mbia and-somehow-Julio Cesar all signing on. QPR's throw-spaghetti-at-the-wall approach came under some criticism, but it's difficult to deny that the club managed to assemble a fairly impressive collection of talent and a run at the Europa League didn't seem too far out of the realm of possibility.
Clearly, things haven't turned out that way. QPR has been a complete and total mess from the word go, starting the season off with a 0-5 thrashing from Swansea in front of their home crowd. In a technical sense things have gotten better since then, but when you're without a win and 8 points from safety on December 1st it's difficult to take much solace from anything. The highlight of the season so far is a 0-0 draw against Chelsea in mid-September, and to the surprise of absolutely no one Mark Hughes became the second Premier League manager to lose his job this season when QPR sacked him on November 23rd.
And that's where predicting how this game is going to go gets a bit tricky. This game will technically be Harry Redknapp's second in charge of QPR following Tuesday's 0-0 draw with Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. But given that 'Arry's appointment came just three days before that game took place, it's difficult to think he'd had time to have much (if any) impact on the team. Now he's had a full week to do whatever it is that Harry Redknapp does to make horrible teams respectable. And the bigger concern for teams that are still close enough to the relegation zone to feel the heat (which Villa very much is) will be the talent with which Redknapp has to work; this isn't a mid-2000s-Portsmouth level of talent we're talking about here. This QPR side has some very good players, and if Redknapp can get them playing to their potential they've got more than enough time to turn this season back towards the respectable.
Aston Villa has to hope that it takes a bit longer for the turnaround to come, but that's not really something that's in their control. The bigger concern will be whether the side that shows up at Loftus Road tomorrow is the one that took the pitch against Arsenal or the one that took the pitch against Reading, and hopefully it's the former. That seems somewhat counter-intuitive, but anyone that watched both games will know otherwise. Clearly three points is better than one, but Villa was just a far better team against the Gunners than they were against the Royals. Perhaps another sloppy but scrappy effort would be enough to take a result from Loftus Road, but the odds are much better if they can put together the kind of composed performance of which we know they are capable.
In some ways, this game is even bigger than the one against Reading. Momentum matters, and with Stoke City at Villa Park up next, a win (or even encouraging draw) at Loftus Road could to bigger things as we head towards the winter transfer window. And what QPR could potentially become under Redknapp is an important consideration from an analytical standpoint, but in the larger picture it's somewhat irrelevant. This is currently the team at the bottom of the league, and Aston Villa really needs to take something from this game. Three points on Tuesday was big, but it didn't provide much in the way of breathing room. And with this looking to be another season with a very small gap between the middle and bottom of the table, teams in this position can't afford to let the opportunity to give themselves a bit of space pass by.