QPR 2 Manchester City 2
It was a tale of two strikers at Loftus Road on Saturday evening, with Sergio Aguero proving to be City’s saviour once again after Charlie Austin had shown the watching Roy Hodgson why he might be worth an England place.
Aguero struck his 11th and 12th league goals of the season to salvage a point for City, who were somewhat lucky to leave Loftus Road with anything, after being outfought if not out-thought by a QPR side who belied their position in the relegation zone.
Harry Redknapp’s side have been on an upward trajectory recently, in terms of performances if not yet places, but the manager – and many observers – believe they will be safe from the drop if they continue to perform the way they have done against Liverpool, Chelsea and now City, whose fans rather than their players reminded everybody that they are champions of England.
It is not a title they will be retaining if they continue in this vein, though, with only one victory in their past six games and a side that looks increasingly reliant on Aguero to dig them out of one hole after another. Strangely Manuel Pellegrini chose not to criticise his porous defence or limp midfield when analysing why City lost further ground on leaders Chelsea, but bemoaned the failure of his strike force – effectively Aguero on his own – to score more.
“We are maybe not in a very good moment but the team continued fighting, continued working until the end. We tried to win. We had a lot of chances to score but we didn’t do it. That’s why we just drew.”
Harsh on Aguero, perhaps, as the Argentine striker showed two moments of individual brilliance to equalise twice, first after Austin put QPR ahead in the 20th minute, and then after an own-goal from Martin Demichelis.
The Argentinian defender has a different look this season, with his ponytail gone, but the problems remain the same – uncertainty and a tendency to lose out on 50-50 balls. With Vincent Kompany injured, Demechelis played alongside Eliaquim Mangala, but neither looked comfortable against Austin and Bobby Zamora, and Gael Clichy at left-back was given the runaround by Chilean winger Eduardo Vargas.
City’s problems were not only in defence. Their holding midfielders, Fernando and Fernandinho, looked weak in the tackle, and once again Yaya Toure looked like all his birthdays had come – and been forgotten — at once. Jesus Navas and Samir Nasri were peripheral figures, so it was no surprise that City struggled, and were grateful to Joe Hart for a string of fine saves in front of Hodgson.
Austin could have had a hat-trick, and so could Aguero, but for goalline clearances from Richard Dunne and Joey Barton. Pellegrini at least acknowledged his striker’s status in the world game. “Sergio is a top player in the world and very important for us. What he needs now is for the performance of the whole team to grow again in the same way we normally play and I am sure this will happen after the international break.”
But City are now eight points behind Chelsea and also likely to be out of the Champions League soon, with Bayern Munich due at the Etihad Stadium in a fortnight. Yet Pellegrini does not see any need to change his approach. “We will continue to work in the same way we are doing. We’ll continue to play the style of play we always do. When you have a bad moment you must have more trust in what you do.”
Pellegrini made the point that: “We are the third best defence in the league, with one more goal than Chelsea. So we’re not so bad.”
But Barton, who played for City long before they had Abu Dhabi’s billions behind them, told a different story after his return from injury as a second-half substitute for QPR. “Without the little fella (Aguero) we would have taken all three points. You are always only four or five results away from the pressure that Pellegrini has noted. He won the league last year, but a couple of abject results and performances in Europe and all of a sudden he is under the cosh. This is the madness of the Premier League. That’s what you live with, that expectation, with the money invested in the club. It sounds crazy to say this, but winning the league is almost not good enough. You have to show progress in the Champions League and all competitions. They have the squad to compete on all fronts and are one of Europe’s super clubs with the spending ability so that’s how they are going to judge themselves. They are not going to judge themselves against the likes of little old us. It’s going to be against the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid. Everyone is aware they’re struggling, but they’re not out of it yet.”
Barton’s belief that QPR can climb away from the relegation zone is shared by Redknapp, now that the players he brought in this summer are starting to gell.
“We are looking like a proper team now, and there is a good spirit around the place” said Redknapp. “We need to keep that going. There’s a long way to go but I think we’ll be OK.”
And Redknapp believes Austin can get an England call-up if he carries on scoring. “Hopefully, yes. He’s a goalscorer. He wants to learn in training. When you’re like that you’ve got a chance, haven’t you? Roy has seen him here and will make a decision whether he’s up to it. He’s got to keep scoring goals and if he keeps doing that then he’s got a chance.”
QPR 4-4-2: Green 6; Isla 7, Caulker 6, Dunne 7, Yun 7; Vargas 7, Sandro 5, Henry 6, Fer 7; Zamora 6, Austin 8.
Sub: Barton 6 for Sandro, 46.
MAN CITY 4-2-3-1: Hart 7 ; Sagna 6, Demechelis 5, Mangala 6, Clichy 6; Fernando 6, Fernandinho 6; Navas 7 Toure 6, Nasri 7; Aguero 9.
Subs: Dzeko for Fernandinho 63, Lampard for Dzeko 67, Milner for Nasri 74.
Referee: M Dean.
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