Marti Cifuentes’ QPR reign already feels a million miles away from Gareth Ainsworth’s tactics

4 min

To say it has been a tumultuous year at Loftus Road would be an incredible understatement. 

Now on their fourth manager in twelve months, both QPR’s board and fans alike will be hoping, if not praying, the Marti Cifuentes era will lift them out of the rut they find themselves in.

So far, after his opening four games in charge, it’s clear Cifuentes style is much more suited to the QPR players at his disposal than his predecessor Gareth Ainsworth.

In fact, his possession-based approach and pressing tactics are reminiscent of the Michael Beale blueprint, and to a lesser extent Neil Critchley’s set-up.

On his side’s adaptation to his (new) style, Cifuentes said: “I see a team that is trying to have a clear identity.

“How they want to play out from the back, how the players are having the courage to ask for the ball and pass to each other, trust each other, press high – I think that identity is starting to show up.”

This brand of football is in stark contrast to that of Ainsworth’s – where Cifuentes encourages players to take risks and build-up from the back, Ainsworth employed a more direct approach with long balls and low possession.

His style was, without question, severely disliked and questioned by Hoops fans and with just one home win during his short-lived reign, they had good reason to be frustrated.

As a player, Ainsworth was a cult hero at the club and there was a mutual respect and understanding for someone who had struggled with injuries and regular football until his move to W12.

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Between 2003 and 2008, Ainsworth enjoyed some of his best days of his playing career at QPR, winning promotion in his first season before a number of seasons in the Championship. 

But to understand his subsequent career as a manager, it’s hard not to look at the influence of those he played under.

At Cambridge United and Preston North End, Ainsworth played under John Beck – a manager renowned for long-ball tactics with a strong emphasis on teamwork and some off-the-wall quirks (including cold water for away team showers) in order to maximise home advantage. 

From Preston, Ainsworth followed Beck to Lincoln where the winger would pick up personal accolades of the club’s Player of the Year twice as well as a spot in the PFA’s 1996–97 Third Division Team of the Year.

Therefore, it is little wonder that stepping into the dugout Ainsworth would take inspiration from his former managerial master and the EFL would inadvertently welcome ‘the new John Beck’ into their mists.

Ainsworth’s style felt like a ‘Beck identikit’; a direct style of play, getting the ball out to pacy wingers with a reliance on a decent striker to fire in the goals. 

Teamwork is critical, as is a determination to win and it’s a style that suited a Wycombe side who managed to gain promotion from League One but the struggles Ainsworth’s side faced whilst in the Championship should have been a clear sign of how his style would not translate at a higher level.

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However, having already claimed five points from his opening four games in charge, there is cause for real optimism around QPR under Cifuentes.

His early success is a million miles away from Ainsworth’s flawed style as QPR’s squad was capable of so much more – evident from the impressive 4-2 win over Stoke to give the side a first victory on home soil since March.

“Everyday since my arrival has been a step forward,” said Cifuentes. “When I look at my first practice to now, I feel that we are taking steps. I’m sure that if the players just keep working, then we can just get better.”

The never satisfied nature of Cifuentes means the team will be hungry for more, and for the first time for awhile, perhaps even the most pessimistic of supporters can begin to look up the table with a sense of excitement at what the Marti Cifuentes era could offer.

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