Watford travelled to Loftus Road to face QPR in the first of the FA Cup fifth-round ties. With Chelsea and Manchester United playing each other and only Man City remaining from the top six sides, both of these sides saw this as an opportunity to advance to the quarterfinals and beyond.
The opening 10 minutes were played in a frantic fashion with both sides eager to get the ball into their strikers. This led to a large number of turnovers and a sense of chaos in the game. Following a stoppage after a clash of heads between Matt Smith and Miguel Britos, Watford began to exert some control over the match.
QPR’s defensive approach
Watford have been particularly effective on the counter-attack this season utilising direct passes into their front two, as a result, QPR were happy to sit back into a deep defensive block with both of their strikers falling back behind the ball and often retreating into their own half. This helped to negate the counter-attacking threat and force Watford to create chances through the compact defensive shape. It was only once Watford moved the ball into the QPR half did they begin to apply any real pressure on the ball.
Watford struggled to create any chances in the first half, mainly due to QPR’s excellent defensive organisation. As a result of QPR’s shape, they always had an extra player in centre midfield as Watford operated in their 4-4-2 formation. The two forwards concerned themselves with preventing passes being played through the middle of the pitch instead forcing Watford to pass into wide areas of the pitch.
QPR’s crossing emphasis
The main focus of chance creation for QPR involved putting the ball into the box as often as possible aiming for Smith, who possesses great aerial strength. Due to their defensive line being so close to their own goal, when they did regain possession they were often crossing from deeper positions. This resulted in them having to play floated crosses into the box which made it hard for Smith to generate any power into his headers.
The player most likely to create a chance of real quality was Freeman, who was operating on the left of the midfield three. In the 40th minute of the game, he intercepted a square pass in his own half before dribbling towards the edge of the Watford box, before playing a chipped pass into Nakhi Wells whose volleyed effort was tipped wide by Heurelho Gomes.
Whilst the QPR defence were keen to play long direct balls into the strikers, Freeman was constantly moving between Watford’s defence and midfield. The lack of a midfielder able to consistently find him in these pockets of space seriously hampered QPR’s ability to create chances. The two Watford centre-backs were confident dealing with the long balls with Capoue and Tom Cleverley positioned in front of the defenders winning the second balls.
Watford take the lead
Watford went into half time 1-0 in front due to a goal from Etienne Capoue, with their only shot on target in the first half. Watford worked a short corner with Jose Holebas crossing deep into the box. A mishit shot from Tom Cleverley fell to Capoue who placed the ball past Joe Lumley into the far corner.
QPR’s change of approach
The second half saw a change of tactic from QPR; they moved their defensive line higher up the pitch, which in turn allowed them to pin Watford back. They were still looking to play the ball into Smith as often as they could but unlike the first half, they were able to do this from more advanced areas of the pitch.
QPR were often let down by the final pass to create a real clear cut opportunity to score. This was in part due to their over-reliance on aerial balls into Smith. With greater patience, they could have worked the ball into their wingbacks (who were often left unmarked) in more advanced areas of the pitch before crossing into the box.
This was a match low on quality with both sides struggling to create many clear cut opportunities. Watford were clinical with the one shot they had on target whilst Leistner missed a glorious chance at the far post which would have taken the game to extra time. Watford won’t care at all as they progress to the quarter-final of the FA Cup and a step closer to Wembley.
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