Queens Park Rangers-Sunderland Preview
Harry Redknapp is back on the bench, but at a place not as glamorous as expected.
The 65-year-old manager begins the difficult task of trying to lead beleaguered - and winless - Queens Park Rangers out of the drop zone Tuesday night when they visit struggling Sunderland.
Redknapp tends to be linked with any high-profile position in the Premier League, including reports he would be installed at Chelsea before it surprisingly won the Champions League. Redknapp was in the running for the England national team spot after Fabio Capello resigned ahead of the European Championship, but lost out to Roy Hodgson.
Most recently, he was in discussions with Ukraine, but instead landed at QPR (0-4-9).
Redknapp's availability was a surprise to begin with. He had spent nearly four seasons at Tottenham, leading them to back-to-back fourth-place finishes before being fired in May.
QPR's expectations aren't even close to that. They're propping up the table and seven points behind Southampton for safety after surviving the drop on the final day of last season.
Acquiring 11 new players, including midfielder Park Ji-sung, defender Jose Bosingwa and goalkeeper Julio Cesar, in the summer transfer window was supposed to see them begin to move up the standings.
That job is now tasked to Redknapp after Mark Hughes was fired following a 3-1 loss at Loftus Road to the Saints.
"He has a proven track record in the Premier League and has all the characteristics we were looking for to get us out of the current situation we find ourselves in," chairman Tony Fernandes said. "His man-management skills are second to none, and we are confident he is the right man to lead us away from the bottom of the table."
Those man-management abilities may be tested early after Redknapp blamed the players for the woeful start.
"The players have to be at it - the buck stops with them," Redknapp said. "I know Mark lost his job, but it's down to the players. He could only do what he could do. The players have not performed to their potential.
"There are some good players here and they really need to step up and start performing. They are man enough to know they're to blame for the position we are in."
It was unlikely to get any better Saturday, when QPR fell 3-1 at Manchester United while Redknapp watched from the stands as assistant coaches Mark Bowen and Eddie Niedzwiecki took charge.
It would seem the fixture list is about to provide some relief. After facing 16th-place Sunderland (2-6-4), QPR will host relegation rivals Aston Villa on Saturday before a visit to Wigan the following week.
QPR, however, lost both meetings with the Black Cats last season, including a 3-1 road defeat.
Sunderland are 1-2-5 in their last eight matches in all competitions, going 0-1-3 at home in that stretch.
They fell again at home Saturday, losing 4-2 to West Bromwich Albion after winning 3-1 at Fulham the previous weekend.
"After having our confidence restored on the back of our recent performances I thought we might have been able to get the win," manager Martin O'Neill told the team's official website. "That confidence did show, but we were hit with those goals at a crucial time.
"We'll be ready to go again on Tuesday."
A focused Simon Mignolet in goal would surely help. The Belgian goalkeeper was at fault for West Brom's second goal, spilling the ball into the path of Shane Long, who scored just before the half.
"He doesn't need me or the manager to stand here and say he's brilliant," midfielder Craig Gardner said. "He's the best keeper in the league, honestly. This won't faze him."