The Carling Cup kicks off tonight for Chelsea, as the seemingly unstoppable force meets West London rivals Queen’s Park Rangers at Stamford Bridge. QPR’s newfound status as economic high flyers has seen their profile rise in the last year or so, although their owner Flavio Briatore has had his personal reputation blown to smithereens over the Formula One ‘crashgate’ scandal. Briatore allegedly conspired to let one of his Renault drivers suffer a high speed crash to benefit the team’s other driver in the recent Singapore Grand Prix. Makes diving in football look purely trivial in comparison!
Briatore aside, QPR have had a decent enough start to the Championship season. The Hoops have not yet won a home game, but Jim Magilton’s side sit in 12th place due to two away wins and a smattering of wins, although just the four goals scored in four games on the road raises some questions ahead of their visit to the Bridge.
QPR have a selection of ex-Premier League players on their books, with household (!) names including Peter Ramage (once of Newcastle United), Gavin Mahon (ex-Watford), Wayne Routledge (Spurs and Aston Villa), and ‘keepers Tom Heaton (on loan from Manchester United), Radek Cerny (once at Spurs), and speedy striker Jay Simpson, who QPR are borrowing from Arsenal. Simpson is QPR’s highest goalscorer in the league, with two goals.
Meanwhile, as is the standard around this time of year, the forums have been buzzing with anticipation over the expected line-up. Fans have been predicting anything from almost complete youth sides to a full strength eleven. Expect something in between the two extremes. Joe Cole will start following a lengthy spell out with an injury, while Yuri Zhirkov is also in line for a first start for the club after some time on the sidelines himself.
Didier Drogba is expected to miss out after picking up cramp towards the end of the Spurs win at the weekend, while young Italian striker Fabio Borini could feature from the start against QPR, following his few minutes at the end of the same game. The list of players who could be rested could indeed provide a more than formidable side in itself, so we could see a true test of our squad strength tonight with the deputies in action.
Due to the difference in league standings, meetings between Chelsea and QPR have been few and far between in recent seasons, although the Blues did win the last game in 2008/09. An FA Cup third round tie was settled by a Lee Camp own goal at the Bridge. The last time the two sides played each other in a league game was back in March 1996 however, and there was nothing between Chelsea and QPR as John Spencer’s early opener was equalised by a Simon Barker effort in the first-half. The game ended 1-1. Chelsea and QPR have met 47 times, with the Blues winning 17 of these matches.
While QPR are still dreaming of reaching the promised land of the Premier League once again, they seem to have stalled in their efforts under Briatore and moneybags owner Lakshmi Mittal. They come to the Bridge under the cloud of off-pitch controversy, and will be looking for some respite inside 90 minutes against Chelsea. But if they are looking for a smooth ride, they have come to the wrong place. The Blues have been impeccable so far this season, and the perfect start to the season should continue tonight. QPR to suffer a blowout, a wheelspin, and whatever Formula One puns you can think of as Chelsea romp to the chequered flag of victory.