“If you believe everything you see on social media then it’s going to be a long night."

They were the words of Queen's Park Rangers boss Marti Cifuentes as he addressed speculation linking him with the vacant head coach position at the Stadium of Light back in April.

While the Catalan boss was keen to play down any talk of a move to Wearside, he was a head coach who had already caught the eye of Sunderland's hierarchy.

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The Hoops were second bottom of the Championship when Cifuentes was appointed as head coach, picking up the pieces from Gareth Ainsworth's disastrous spell in charge of the London based club.

At the time, Sunderland were battling it out for a play-off place.

Fast forward to the end of the season, Cifuentes had guided QPR to an 18th placed finish, level on points with Sunderland goal difference the only reason they finished below the Black Cats.

Wins over Leicester City and Leeds United, two of the standout games from QPR's resurgence. The inexperienced Cifuentes showing he has what it takes to manage in the Championship.

A Johan Cruyff scholar, the 41-year-old knew a more pragmatic approach would be needed at Loftus Road. As fans rave about his possession based football, it's Cruyff's Barcelona dream-team who are the foundations of his view of football.

His first game at the Camp Nou, saw Atlético Madrid take on Cruyff's men.

We Are Sunderland: QPR boss Marti Cifuentes has been linked with the vacant Sunderland head coach position.QPR boss Marti Cifuentes has been linked with the vacant Sunderland head coach position. (Image: Ian Horrocks)

“The importance is expression," Cifuentes told the Guardian earlier this year when asked about his style of play. "I will never change that I like to have possession. Not to be fancy but to be dominant. I suffer a lot when I see my team defending low inside our box."

QPR's squad had nowhere near the talent of Cruyff's iconic side, but with Cifuentes taking a more pragmatic approach in West London, the Hoops soon began to reap the rewards.

“There are what I call the three Ps," Cifuentes told West London Sport. “You use possession as a tool and use the ball to move it and create the chances, to create gaps.

“We will try to have good pressing when we don’t have the ball, because we like to regain the ball quickly to create chances. The last one and perhaps the most important is positioning. As long as we have good positions on the pitch then we’re going to get better situations on the ball to execute the actions.

“These will be the foundations. We want to be a brave team that wants to attack and if we score a goal tries to chase the second one.”

Sunderland saw first hand QPR's fearlessness under Cifuentes.

Although the game at the Stadium of Light finished 0-0, it was the hosts who were the better side albeit in a poor game.

We Are Sunderland: QPR's expected goals against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light last season.QPR's expected goals against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light last season. (Image: StatsBomb)Sunderland had Anthony Patterson to thank for sparing their blushes with a fantastic save to deny Chris Willock from just inside the 18-yard box after some great play from Sinclair Armstrong down the right.

QPR had an xG of 0.83 to Sunderland's 0.43, 11 shots to the Black Cats eight.

Cifuentes lined up in a 4-2-3-1, with Ilias Chair, Chris Willock and Lucas Andersen dangerous for the visitors. The midfield runs of the three players mentioned cause Mike Dodds' side problems in the first-half.

That game in particular was a pretty poor one, so difficult to take much away from it in terms of style-of-play.

During his time at Swedish club Hammarby IF, Cifuentes set-up with variations of a 4-3-3, capable of transitioning to 4-1-4-1 out of possession.

As we see on the clip below, they have two clear lines of defence, with Isaac Hayden screening the run of Coventry City's Callum O'Hare.

QPR have a structured shape out of possession but have clear pressing triggers.QPR have a structured shape out of possession but have clear pressing triggers. (Image: Wyscout)

At Hammarby, his side had average possession rate of 56.3 per cent, compared to the 51.15 per cent possession of his predecessor, Miloš Milojević.

As per totalfootballanalysis, they averaged 2.14 goals per 90 minutes, from an xG of 1.84 per 90, indicating a slight overperformance, but impressive nonetheless. For reference, Sunderland's rolling xG per 90 this season was 1.10.

Hammarby's defensive security under Cifuentes is equally impressive conceding just 0.93 goals per 90 from a 1.1 xG, less than a goal per game. Sunderland's opponents this season had an average xG per 90 of 1.13, according to FBRef.

If we focus on the attacking build-up, Cifuentes' side move to a 3-2-5 and 2-3-5 with a midfielder dropping deep to receive the ball and full-backs inverting into central areas of the pitch.

We saw that on a number of occasions at the Stadium of Light during the game on March 16.

We Are Sunderland: Although lining-up in a back four on paper, QPR build-up from the back in a 3-2-5 shape.Although lining-up in a back four on paper, QPR build-up from the back in a 3-2-5 shape. (Image: Wyscout)Looking at the image above we see that back three highlighted. Left-back Kenneth Paal makes a run out of picture beyond the halfway line, taking Sunderland winger Romaine Mundle with him.

Isaac Hayden and Jack Colback both alternate playing as the deeper midfielder of their central three.

On the image below we see a clear back three and midfield pairing, Colback as the deeper of the two, but that rotated throughout the afternoon.

We Are Sunderland: Cifuentes' QPR build-up in a 3-2-5.Cifuentes' QPR build-up in a 3-2-5. (Image: Wyscout)Out of the front five, Ilias Chair drops deep to make space for the run of Paal - again not on the picture - but we see the reaction from Romaine Mundle who hadn't switched on to QPR's attacking rotation. Jobe Bellingham barking instructions as the winger had lost his man.

Chris Willock provided width for QPR on the opposite flank, with Anderson pushing up to join Lyndon Dykes in attack. Sunderland struggled with these rotations in the early stages of the game, with QPR having the majority of momentum in front of goal.

The Wearsiders did eventually get to grips with QPR's rotations, but as previously mentioned, the game was far from a classic. That game in particular shouldn't, and hasn't deterred Sunderland's interest.

In the emphatic 4-0 win over promotion chasing Leeds United, we see QPR's 'front five' cause havoc once again.

The overlapping run of Paal draws Sam Byram to the byline, creating space infield for Ilias Chair.The overlapping run of Paal draws Sam Byram to the byline, creating space infield for Ilias Chair. (Image: Wyscout) Chris Willock provides width on the right-hand side, stretching Leeds United's back line. On this occasion, it's a brilliant solo goal from Ilias Chair but the 'front five' all play their part.

Paal's overlapping run draws Sam Byram to the by-line to create space for Chair infield. We see Andersen's late run into the box occupying Archie Gray, while Dykes occupies the centre-half pairing of Ethan Ampadu and Joe Rodon.

Colback provides cover should QPR's attack breaks down. It doesn't, with the hosts going one goal to the good.

It remains to be seen whether the Black Cats would stump up the compensation fee to prise Cifuentes away from Loftus Road but, that being said, it remains a left field link that's worth keeping an eye on.

Fresh from a great escape with the Hoops, he'll be keen to make his mark on English football.