Queens Park Rangers have confirmed the signing of formerly departed loanee Stefan Johansen after an impressive tenure in W12, someone who Mark Warburton wanted to make permanent, bolstering his midfield options; but also adding a unique skillset to the midfielders we already possess. Johansen, in my opinion is one of the better deep lying playmakers or advanced playmakers in the league, having achieved two back to back championship promotions (17/18, 19/20) with Fulham, and playing a part in them both. Whilst surprisingly not given a crack at the Premier League for whatever reason, has made a name for himself in this division.
Whilst the loan signing of Johansen was certainly a good one in hindsight, it was also a sign of panic, a sign that the recruitment model wasn’t going to plan, and the reliance on big game players such as Ebere Eze, and loans of Hugill and Wells last season was real.
Now 30, Johansen isn’t getting any younger. You could pin the blame on his stagnant progression over five years at Fulham as down to managers and the frenetic recruitment of Fulham at the time. Playing 3,000 minutes at Fulham on two occasions, one ending in promotion to the Premier league before being zoned out by Jokanovic after spending 100+ million on players in the Premier league, whilst under Scott Parker in the 19/20 promotion season, was plagued by stability, culminating in a place in the U23s and a loan move in January to W12 the following season- similar to under Jokanovic whereby he went on loan to West Brom for 18/19 season. Arguably, Johansen hasn’t really settled anywhere for long (2+ seasons) periods of time throughout the entirety of his career.
Whether he was falsely promised, plain unlucky, or a bit of both, Johansen’s recent years were somewhat wasted and marred by inconsistency. Now entering the latter part of his career, I believe Rangers can really [continue to] benefit from someone who is “lightly raced” for a player of his age.
As per Fbref, Johansen registered 1,767 minutes within 21 games between 1st February – 8th May averaging 84 minutes per appearance, a real consistent cog in the side that propelled from 15th position to 9th whilst Johansen was at the club. Only twice in his career has he reached over 3,000 minutes and only three times has he started 30+ league games. At Fulham, with his three full campaigns, he made 43, 35 and 19 league starts there. So despite being 30, he’s never fully been burnt out.
In fact, over his entire career, Johansen has just featured in just 22,372 minutes- a total of 305 games, which for someone of his age, isn’t all that high. To put it into perspective, Albert Adomah, 33, has featured in 38,923 league minutes- around 553 league games. Despite being three years younger, Johansen has significantly fewer league minutes under his belt than Adomah. So whilst you might assume that a player in his 30s is getting on, I think it’s fair to say that there is still plenty of energy left in Johansen’s legs, and QPR can benefit from his under usage in more recent years.
Despite being “lightly raced”, Johansen has represented some big clubs. He has played 26 games in European competitions for Celtic. Undoubtedly this is fantastic experience and QPR get the benefit of the experience without the burnout that you may expect. In terms of career pedigree and experience, he adds so much to our relatively young squad.
So in Johansen we have someone of great footballing pedigree, who is probably still at the peak years in terms of minutes played- too good to be true, right? With his loan move last season a success, it is evident that Johansen was and will continue to be an integral member of Mark Warburton’s side- and on his wage you’d hope that would be the case.
Below, I’ll take a look at his impact, his goals and his quality from his loan spell last season and what I expect from him to come this season.
Johansen scored three goals for Rangers during his loan spell inside 21 league starts, perhaps surprising, but he has scored 49 career league goals. His goals were all unique, one was a huge goalkeeping error from deep but nonetheless parts of his game are different in a typical midfielder’s skillset.
His goal against Luton, for me, was most impressive. Below, is the first phase of the build-up to the goal. Johansen (circled) is high and isolated from the build-up compared to the more usual central deeper positions he usually takes up.
The routine against Luton seems a typical Warburton defensive build-up. Barbet carries the ball before sending a ball between the lines of the Luton midfield to Chair in the image below. Note how Johansen is still isolated from the build-up, as the move began to intensify.
The key here is two particular things. Chair’s driving run into the space helps draw defenders around him. Whilst Chair is driving centrally, Austin’s decoy run drags the two Luton defenders out causing the huge space between the CB and LB (the lines drawn) where Johansen can run into and that’s where the goal is made.
The image above shows the progressive run Johansen made before finishing the well worked move. The goal was worked brilliantly as a collective, but Johansen’s attacking intelligence to create the run from deep is something that none of our other midfielders possess in their locker.
The main part of Johansen’s game is his passing. The mesmerising balls played short, long, diagonal or between the lines are a genuine joy to watch. His role as the deep lying playmaker became stronger towards the tail end of the season when Warburton shifted to a more gung-ho attack consisting of 2 strikers and 2 attacking midfielders behind, with usually Chair dropping deeper at times and Johansen playing in a more unorthodox defensive 6 role.
Above is an example of his passing ability, spraying balls high and wide to wing backs, in this case Kakay. The structure of the system is also quite telling, with both Wallace (half out of shot, bottom left) and Kakay (circled) high and wide to help provide rotations- something important in this particular system when stretching the opposition. Johansen in the final stretch of games played as the single pivot- central to all build=up from deep (image below) and containing possession as a team.
The final part of his game is his pressing, as a tenacious hard-working midfielder. Typically in a Warburton side, pressing isn’t the most important asset to a side. Players such as Illias Chair, Chris Willock have a knack for closing down defenders but most notably our press from the front through Austin and Dykes isn’t as aggressive. In moments, Johansen has shown he is.
The first goal he scored for QPR came directly from an aggressive press. Bournemouth were clearly encouraged to play out from the back and did so with risk. Below, shows Mepham playing a short pass across his own box to Lerma, who is positioned to receive the ball from a blind spot, where Johansen is charging at him from deep, Lerma seemingly unaware.
This opens Johansen with the opportunity to pounce on the ball, winning it before coolly slotting it past Begovic, a chance perhaps rare for Rangers to galvanise but one where against top opposition, you can’t rue missed opportunities, which has been a recurring them under Warburton’s tenure.
It is known to many that Stefan Johansen is a major threat. And QPR have and will continue to see the best of him now. He looks fit, sharp and he understands the system and his quality is coming through. QPR are benefitting from a high quality 30-year-old who is arguably entering his prime right now due to recent inconsistencies stifled by misgivings. I expect him to play a huge role next season. His passing is up there with anything I’ve seen in Rangers colours, his movement and attacking runs are unique to our midfield skillset and if he can hit off from here, attacking contributions could become something of a regularity.
In Stefan Johansen, Rangers have serious quality.
With a shift in formation to a 3-5-2 variant based on the front three combination, the double pivot seemed to bolster both in stability and quality towards the latter stage of the season. The pivot was a mainstay partnership for Stefan Johansen with the rotation of his partner built around him (predominantly Ball or Field). What felt like a loss in Tom Carroll from injury at the time, turned to gold. The comparison alone of the midfield core is evident: Ball, Carroll and Cameron to Ball, Johansen and Field post January is undoubtedly an upgrade. Johansen, being the player to stick out like a sore thumb; being the only midfield dominant presence we have possessed under Warburton.
Written by Daniel Lambert