QPR are back at the KPF on Saturday afternoon for the season opener after a very successful pre-season, with back-to-back wins against Manchester United and Cambridge, whilst drawing in a highly competitive 3-3 draw against Leicester City. That made us unbeaten in 3 games, making us an exciting proposition going into the new season.
Gary Rowett’s Millwall are up first, and they’re a strong championship side that will make it tough for us.
The ex-Birmingham and Derby manager has been in charge for around 2 years now, and he has progressed them tactically and has brought in some good players. He has improved Millwall’s attacking threat with more dangerous attacking patterns, and they are less reliant on set-piece goals now, scoring only 13 last season (11th best in the championship).
Jed Wallace is a very big player for Millwall. One of the only Championship players to score 10+ goals in both of the last two seasons under Gary Rowett (10 and 11 respectively) whilst doing the “double-double” in the 19/20 season (double figures for both goals and assists).
He also loves a long shot, so that is something for Dieng to consider, especially considering Rangers conceded the fourth highest shot volume last season in the league (190) behind Huddersfield, Bristol City and Wycombe.
In order for Rangers to prevent this, we must remain tight to them when marking them or anticipate the shot early. It is something that we seem to avoid, opting to sit off of sides centrally and block with bodies rather than anticipate and press.
Wallace aside, Millwall have some other threats. Scott Malone, a left footed wing back who likes to play high to provide attacking width. He possesses a high-quality delivery from wide areas, maximising Benik Afobe’s aerial prowess in and around the box. Jake Cooper is another aerial threat in both boxes. Cooper surprisingly loves a long shot, registering 34 shots last season, the 6th highest in the championship for defenders.
Another obvious danger of Millwall’s is their aerial threat – Jake Cooper 6ft 7, Shaun Hutchinson 6ft, Daniel Ballard 6ft 1, Benik Afobe 6ft and perhaps even well-known Matt Smith at 6ft 5 to haunt our home!
They will pose a big threat both from set-pieces and in open play, and height is something that Rangers have tended to struggle with in previous seasons. With the quality and volume of delivery from wide areas, with the likes of Wallace, McNamara and Malone, Rangers need to defend the box well in order to get anything from the game.
Millwall tend to set up in a 3-5-2, which often looks different depending on the phase of play. You will often see the CM push wide and the shadow striker drop off to create a 5-4-1 in the defensive phase in order to stop teams playing between the lines and in the half spaces. This sees the striker become very isolated from the play and they rely on him doing a good job at holding the ball and usually aiming to find the wide players to transition quickly in an asymmetric 3-4-3 shape with Saville tucking inside.
Millwall will probably set up in a 3-5-2, similarly to when they came to the KPF in early 2021, where they set up with a back 3 and managed to frustrate Rangers in the first half and lead 2-0 with pure dominance. The rest, well is history.
I expect something similar on Saturday afternoon, with ‘Wall looking to catch Rangers on the break with wingbacks Danny McNamara and Scott Malone providing attacking width, the dynamism of Jed Wallace and perhaps Benik Afobe, who is a powerhouse. They will compact into a 5-4-1 defensively and will try and frustrate Rangers. Do note however, these are the expected line-ups, as Millwall’s midfield/system is ambiguous of late!
When Millwall do transition, they do so quickly by actively looking to force out wide- in Saturday’s case it will be Jed Wallace. A direct, dynamic winger known for his final ball will be looking for Afobe as the end product.
This could be something of a problem to Rangers, specifically from open play. The emphasis on our wing backs being high and aggressive are natural, therefore there will be space left in the “half half” areas between the wide centre back and wing back, where Millwall generally like to leave traps there, in order to capitalise during attacking transitions. All shown in the graphic below.
This would be something very dangerous for Rangers as we have seen last season and also in pre-season, our defensive vulnerabilities to transitions. These came more recently against Cambridge and Man United; of which only one led to a goal. But also against Leicester we saw our vulnerabilities with space behind our backline, most notably shown through Daka running in behind Dickie and De Wijs to win a needless penalty.
That being said, Afobe does not own that sheer pace that Daka did but has abilities to run in behind as well as into channels. But defending transitions will be something of a red flag for us to improve on, as we conceded the most (8) in the league last season.
Despite Millwall’s back line possessing huge aerial threat, as covered previously- they lack a real sense of mobility despite somewhat being strengthened by the signing of Daniel Ballard from Arsenal. This would favour Rangers, particularly if we were to set up with both Chair and Willock to use quick rotations, pace and their low centre of gravity to cause ‘Wall’s back three problems.
This, furthered by Austin’s link-up play would be a huge benefactor. There may be moans and groans for Dykes and Austin to play alongside one another, but that simply is suboptimal. They aren’t proper “target men”, aerially they don’t win enough duels. Dykes, on average wins less than 50% of his aerial duels. Against Millwall, life will become increasingly more difficult. Austin’s is worse (30%) however with his ruthless edge and impressive link-up play of late, he would receive the nod from me.
So, we know that Millwall will be vulnerable against quick rotations, but another Achilles heel is their vulnerability from set-pieces. The Lions conceded 9 set-piece goals last season, despite their aerial ability and tag that comes along with it. So, this is something Rangers may look to exploit but equally with our record at attacking set pieces, we will probably succumb.
Millwall love transitions, with quick, fluid interchanges and capitalising on space
Millwall love to play wide- their creativity coming from direct players with high quality product
Have shown vulnerabilities from set pieces
Vulnerable against mobility
Jed Wallace is a brilliant player- dynamic, direct and a huge talisman for Millwall
Overall, this will be a tough game. We know what to expect of Millwall and I know Mark Warburton will attack this positively with intensity and quick rotations- Willock and Chair behind Austin for me.
Millwall will want to start the season well, but I have enough faith to back us to edge a 2-1 win.
Written by Dan Lambert