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What to expect from Marti Cifuentes at QPR?

Queens Park Rangers have appointed Marti Cifuentes as their new head coach, and he is set to be in the dugout for the trip to Rotherham on Saturday.

Predecessor Gareth Ainsworth was sacked over the weekend following their sixth straight Championship defeat, going down 2-1 to leaders Leicester, a result that leaves the Hoops 23rd in the standings.

Former boss Neil Warnock had been mentioned as a potential candidate to take over the vacancy but QPR have instead opted for Cifuentes, with an agreement reached with Swedish side Hammarby, and he will now take over subject to a work permit.

Born on the outskirts of Barcelona, the 41-year-old's career shows he has never been afraid to test himself by exploring new challenges and with QPR currently 4/9 to be relegated, his move to Loftus Road may prove the biggest so far.

Open to new challenges

We regularly hear about the highs and lows of success stories, with individuals doing hours of unseen learning before rising to the top of their respective field.

Cifuentes does not seem the type to chase headlines and has been happy to test himself in new environments. Born on the outskirts of Barcelona, he secured a placement at Ajax through the Cruyff Institute and also spent time at Millwall.

His first steps into management came with local clubs Rubi, Sant Andreu and Hospitalet, but his career was transformed by his first short spell in Sweden, working in AIK's academy which sparked a prolonged Scandinavian adventure. 

Cifuentes moved from AIK's youth setup to Norwegian side Sandefjord before heading to Danish club Aalborg, leaving halfway through the 2021/22 campaign to take up the vacancy at Swedish outfit Hammarby.

Happy times at Hammarby

Winning his first five games in charge at Hammarby was a strong way to start, and while it would have been impossible to maintain that run, the Stockholm side thrived under his guidance.

Cifuentes says he works best under pressure, something that will be felt immediately in the Championship. With 30,000 fans often packing out the Tele2 Arena, he guided Hammarby to third in the table and the final of the Svenska Cup, only to lose to Malmo on penalties.

After eventually finishing third in the Allsvenskan, qualifying for the Europa Conference League in the process, Cifuentes faced a new challenge. Hammarby's success did not go unnoticed and eight of their first team stars left in that close season, prompting a recruitment drive.

While not all the incoming stars fitted Cifuentes' style, he tempered his methods to maximise their chances and after a mixed start, Bajen lost just one of the 41-year-old's final 12 games in charge. 

Pushing the boundaries

While Ainsworth's tactics were based on organisation and energy, Cifuentes coaching philosophy revolves around possession. 

However, that does not mean he is against altering his approach to suit his players and the culture of the club he is coaching, telling Sky Sports that "football is about understanding the context". 

He has adapted his approach to suit the characteristics of his surroundings throughout his spells in Spain and Scandinavia.

With the chance to work in the helter-skelter world of the Championship, Cifuentes will need to be adaptable, starting on Saturday against fellow strugglers Rotherham, a game they are 7/4 to win. 

The R's then host Bristol City on 11th November in what will be the Cifuentes' first home game in charge. A positive result would give everyone a lift before they head into the international break, during which the real tactical work will perhaps start in earnest.

What to expect from Cifuentes at QPR?

Ainsworth opted for a back three or back five in the final weeks of his reign. However, like most Catalan coaches, Cifuentes bases his tactics around a 4-3-3 or 4-1-4-1, but has also switched to a more familiar Scandinavian shape of 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2 when required to counter a specific opposition.

At Hammarby, his team averaged 56.3% possession and looked to build from deep, often inverting his full-backs and using his goalkeeper as an extra outfield player to help sow the seeds for overloads.

His 4-3-3 system often also favoured a deep-lying playmaker, someone like Sam Field, who can receive the ball from the goalkeeper. Meanwhile, his other central midfielders often fill in for the full-backs before passing to a forward player who has moved into the space they have vacated.

Similar to other Catalan coaches, Cifuentes' approach emphasises building play through positional rotations and fluid movement, with diagonal passes crucial to his plan of exploiting the space between the lines.

Without the ball, his teams tend to drop into a mid-block 4-5-1, happy to maintain a high pressing line started by their forwards, who help squeeze the play and then lead their colleagues in moving forward as a unit to push the opposition back. 

It might take some time for Cifuentes to impress these principles on his new players and it is unclear where his initial priorities will lie. 

His early focus could be on this latter tactical point, with QPR's 26 goals conceded the third-worst in the division. However, they have also only netted 10 goals, reflecting their current position in the division, with that tally the 23rd-worst. 

Lyndon Dykes would likely relish the role of sparking the press, while he may also be open to dropping back in attack to create patterns of play that could help provide him with more scoring chances, having netted just once so far this season.

With talk of Warnock returning, and his record of keeping clubs in the Championship, QPR fans may be somewhat surprised by the decision to hire Cifuentes.

The ex-Hammarby boss clearly has tactical pedigree, but few in England will be familiar with his work. 

Fortune often favours the brave, though, and his appointment could signal a new dawn for a club who might believe they need a significant change to bring them back to where they feel they belong.

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