Wednesday will be QPR’s cup final for the season. A trip to Stamford Bridge for the West London neighbors will represent a major opportunity to jumpstart the fate of QPR’s season. With just 10 points from 20 matches, QPR seem destined for relegation given that the form that they’ll need to sustain will have to be equal to or better than those teams in the top four. Given all their problems, QPR will look at this as possibly the highlight of the season, especially given that they were able to take a point from Chelsea earlier in the season when the two teams met at Loftus Road.
This meeting should be “handshake gate” free as John Terry will be absent from the Chelsea first 11, and Anton Ferdinand has seemingly fallen out of favor in recent matches for Harry Redknapp’s QPR. However, this shouldn’t mask the fact that this is a big match for both sides. For QPR, it’s important for the aforementioned reasons, but for Chelsea, it’s important simply because a win will allow the Blues to claim maximum points from the very important run of holiday fixtures and might just allow them to start to be mentioned once more in the title race.
First thing that can’t be understated: QPR are not a good side right now.
For the first half against Liverpool, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a side that looked so disinterested and disorganised for a side in the Premier League facing a serious relegation fight. Liverpool cut them apart at will, but not via individual brilliance or great play. They were mostly able to destroy them simply because at least four or five of the QPR players looked as if they could have cared less about playing that match.
It’s not an indictment of Redknapp’s ability, but more an indictment of the state of QPR’s side. They signed a lot of players to big wages who were generally seen as mercenaries, and they just don’t look up for the relegation fight. It’s no surprise of the bewilderment on the face of Redknapp and the demonstrative attitudes of players like Shaun Derry who seem to not be able to believe what they’re seeing on the pitch.
Second thing: Expect that QPR won’t score unless it comes from Djibril Cisse or Adel Taarabt.
QPR have just 16 goals in the top flight this season. Of those players who are not injured or haven’t proved reliable, only Taraabt and Cisse are capable of scoring goals. It’s interesting to me that two of the players who have probably been accused the most of losing interest and not being willing to work for their teams in the past are the ones that QPR are relying on to get them out of this predicament.
They are the two dangermen, but Chelsea should be well aware of it by now. Despite their problems with their previous employers, their talent can’t be ignored. Taarabt is still the most likely of the QPR players to create chances from absolutely nothing. Cisse is still a very dangerous striker when the chances fall his way. If you manage to stop both of them, it’s very hard to see where they get their goals from.
QPR’s defence is their main weakness.
Watching the last few QPR matches has shown evidence that part of the reason that QPR are so bad stems from their inability to stop goals from being scored with any regularity. Not only have the team in a sense started to quit on the season, but even before that, QPR’s defence has been a positional mess for a large part of the season.
The greatest evidence of both is from the last match against Liverpool as Luis Suarez was literally able to single-handedly carve them open at will. While Suarez is capable of doing that to many teams, it was the ease with which he did it; nothing elaborate, just simply flicks and direct play.
If there is a main weakness to exploit, it’s the lack of lateral mobility that makes them very vulnerable when they get their positioning wrong. To attack them, as Suarez showed, you can run at them, draw them out of position, and exploit the space. By getting them to have to move from their lines, they will give you chances to score.
Their midfield isn’t helping their defence either.
QPR generally employ two holding-style midfielders, but neither are really doing much defending or shielding of their back four. In fact, if you watched the play of Stephane Mbia, you can see part of why. Mbia’s performances over the last few matches have been nothing short of woeful with bad positioning, poor commitment to actually trying to defend, and he added simulation and attempts to con the ref into his last match.
Alejandro Faurlin might be their most consistent option in the center of the park, but he’s more of a passer than a straight defender. That’s what’s magnified the deficiencies of Mbia in the center of the park and has highlighted the major problems they’ve had at the back in recent matches. In fact, the last clean sheet that QPR kept was over a month ago against Sunderland.
Chelsea must win this match in order to make a statement of intent for the rest of the season.
If Chelsea take the win on Wednesday, this will mark the first time since the 2005-2006 title winning season that the Blues will have taken maximum points from the holiday period. More than ever this season, those points will be needed given the form of Manchester United up until this stage of the season.
For all his faults, Rafa Benitez has managed to stabilize the team and found the right balance between attacking football and solid defence. It was something that you could say was lacking under Roberto Di Matteo, and it will be the one thing that the teams seemed to have lacked.
One of the interesting things is the experiment of David Luiz in midfield and the rejuvenation of Frank Lampard in the center of the park. Both players will be vital to the next month while Victor Moses and John Mikel Obi head off to represent Nigeria in the African Cup of Nations.