Match Preview: Newcastle United vs. Queens Park Rangers

STEVE HOLT

Queens Park Rangers travel to Tyneside to take on Newcastle United on Sunday. These teams last met on September 12, when they battled to a bitter 0-0 draw, with neither squad making a serious move to earn a win. An admittedly very late match preview follows the jump.

The Opponent

QPR are a team in dreadful form right now. They haven't won a game since November 19, a 3-2 defeat of Stoke City at Britannia Stadium. That's a run of 9 matches (1 of them in the FA Cup) with 6 defeats and 3 draws. They're not a team that's going to score a lot of goals, despite producing a high volume of shots, and if they do grab a lead, they're very content to sit behind the ball. So far this season, QPR have been a very inconsistent bunch, actually earning almost a point per game against Top 10 teams (3-1-7) while taking a league-worst 7 points from teams in the bottom half (1-4-4). Not good news for the Magpies.

Developments

The big news out of Loftus Road is QPR's change in managers. Mark Hughes has taken over for Neil Warnock, and you've seen why. Teams with new managers typically experience a run of good form in the immediate aftermath of the switch, making this a dangerous fixture for Newcastle. Hughes is expected to implement a more attacking style of football in a 4-4-2 formation. Rumor has it that QPR is on the doorstep of acquiring defender Alex from Chelsea. Alex won't be available to play on Sunday, however, so this development only serves to cover up a more menacing storyline coming out of West London: following Saturday's results, the Hoops now sit in the relegation zone. Additionally, the failure of the team to put away MK Dons in their FA Cup fixture means they will play a replay just two days after his one. There's no doubt that Hughes will have his troops fully focused on this league match, but never underestimate the mental toll a schedule like this can take.

Africa Cup of Nations

The Africa Cup of Nations has claimed casualties from both sides. Newcastle will be without Cheik Tiote and Demba Ba, while Queens Park Rangers will miss Adel Taarabt and Armand Traore. Three of these players are vital to their squad and will miss as few as 3 and as many as 5 matches while they participate in the tournament. To me, it's sort of outrageous that FIFA allows the AFCON to disrupt the seasons of not only the Premier League but top leagues around the world. The CAF is doing their players no favors either: their value to clubs is suppressed because chairmen don't want to pay full value for players that will miss so much action. These two teams suffer because of the tournament, and fixtures like this do as well. I'd rather our best go against their best, but neither team will field a full squad on Sunday. There's no reason the AFCON can't be held when the majority of professional leagues don't have games. /rant

Selection

As mentioned above, QPR will be without Taarabt and Traore. Alejandro Faurlin was recently ruled out for the season with a torn ACL. They'll also be missing captain and former Newcastle bad boy Joey Barton, who is suspended after earning a red card for "violent conduct" in a January 2 loss to Norwich. Anybody surprised? Meanwhile, newly arrived Federico Macheda (on loan from Manchester United) should be available.

Newcastle will of course miss Tiote and Ba, but the good news is that the man who replaced Tiote while he recovered from an MCL injury, Danny Guthrie, is back from his own groin troubles. Frequent substitute Sammy Ameobi picked up a fresh knee injury in NUFC's latest reserve game and will be out for several months, likely the season. With Ba out, Alan Pardew may simply elect to continue to field two natural strikers (most likely Leon Best and Shola Ameobi in that situation), or he may opt to play Hatem Ben Arfa in a withdrawn position behind one of the strikers. Recent history shows that Best is the probable choice, but Shola may be better suited for such an assignment.

Newcastle United FC

Currently: 7th place, 9-6-5, 33 pts

Out: Sammy Ameobi (knee), Sylvain Marveaux (groin), Steven Taylor (Achilles'), Cheik Tiote (AFCON), Demba Ba (AFCON)

Probable: Danny Guthrie (groin), Peter Lovenkrands (calf)

Projected XI: Krul | Simpson, Williamson, Coloccini, Santon | Obertan, Guthrie, Cabaye, Jonas | Ben Arfa | Best

Projected Subs: Harper, RTaylor, Perch, Abeid, Gosling, Vuckic, Shola

Queens Park Rangers FC

Currently: 18th place, 4-5-11, 17 points

Out: Joey Barton (suspension), Adel Taarabt (AFCON), Armand Traore (AFCON), Kieron Dyer (foot), Alejandro Faurlin (ACL)

Projected XI: Kenny | Hill, Gabbidon, Young, Ferdinand | Derry, Buzsaky, Wright-Phillips, Mackie | Macheda, Helguson

Projected subs: Cerny, Orr, Connolly, Hulse, Smith, Campbell, Bothroyd

Expectations

Given each team's direction and fortune so far this campaign, it goes without saying that anything other than a win would be a disappointment for the Toon, even if QPR enjoy a new gaffer bump. A better (and perhaps more interesting) story to watch is how the team will cope without their African players - specifically, Demba Ba. Will they be able to score goals at the same rate, or should we look forward to 3-5 games of the negative football that characterized the first month of the season (which may or may not coincide with the month of Ramadan)?

Keys to Victory

  1. Free Hatem Ben Arfa. Without Ba, Newcastle must have a source of creativity. I can think of no better candidate than HBA. It doesn't matter if he plays on the wing for Obertan or behind the striker. He must be selected.
  2. Yohan Cabaye and Danny Guthrie must find each other. The two players don't have much natural chemistry, which is just part of the reason Cheik Tiote is vital. They must make a concerted effort to connect on more than a few passes - not only for this fixture, but for the ones coming up.
  3. Keep possession early. The Hoops will be anxious to prove themselves to their new manager, so a game of keep-away could get under their skin and force some errors.

Fearless Predictions

  • This will be an ugly game, one that makes those of us who reside in the States wonder why we bother to get up early on the weekends to watch. I'm feeling a straight red card...let's call it for Anton Ferdinand.
  • Guthrie scores a goal from distance, leading some misguided souls to suggest that it might not be so bad if Tiote left.
  • @joey7barton violates his self-ban from Twitter to call Mike Ashley a #helmet at halftime.
  • NUFC 1, QPR 0
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