On Saturday afternoon, Chelsea meet a great rival from London in Queens Park Rangers. Historically, any matchup with QPR is full of all kinds of emotions, as evidenced by the Premier League meetings over the last couple years. However, this season, there appears to be a much larger gulf in class between the two sides, and it’ll be interesting to see how QPR cope at Stamford Bridge given that their away form has been particularly bad.
This will be Jose Mourinho’s first time managing against QPR since his return to Chelsea, and you can be sure that he’ll have his side ready for the challenge. After conceding a late equaliser to Manchester United last Sunday and watching one or two players struggle to impose themselves against Shrewsbury on Tuesday, Mourinho will want to make sure that there is no let-down from his first team against QPR, particularly with a trip to Maribor coming up midweek in a match that could see the Blues guarantee qualification to the Champions League knockout stages.
For Harry Redknapp’s QPR, he’ll simply be looking for his side to continue their good form after two good performances in their last two outings. Against Liverpool, QPR did well to come back twice from a deficit before giving away a late own goal in defeat, and last Monday, they showed a good spirit in a 2-0 win over Aston Villa. While he probably won’t expect his team to get anything at Stamford Bridge, the performance and the attitude of his players will be watched, particularly since his side didn’t look strong mentally in the start of the season.
Can QPR continue showing fighting spirit, or will they revert to their early season spirit?
In the last two matches against Liverpool and Aston Villa, QPR showed that they may have finally turned the corner under Redknapp in this Premier League campaign. They began to show a bit of mental strength and fully deserved to win against Villa and probably deserved a point against Liverpool.
However, early in the season, QPR were known for their mental fragility. In many matches, particularly against Tottenham and Manchester United, once they went a goal down, they began to capitulate and played as if they wanted to be anywhere else. That’s the big question mark for QPR coming into this match. Will we see the mentality that they showed in their last two matches, or will we see the team that capitulated if they went behind?
QPR’s biggest concern, tactically, is that they struggle to score goals.
So far this season, QPR have scored just 8 goals in 9 matches. By any standard, that’s unacceptable for any team that wants to avoid relegation, and at the moment, it’s hard to see them being able to stay up.
However, their leading goal scorer, Charlie Austin, is now back from injury and has a bit of confidence after his two goals against Villa. Eduardo Vargas has also brought a bit of international pedigree to that front line and has chipped in with two goals, but it hasn’t been nearly enough. QPR are also getting no production from their other option in Bobby Zamora.
The biggest problem against Chelsea is that they are facing one of the best defences in the Premier League and their facing the side that has scored the most goals in this campaign. Given their lack of goals, it’s hard to imagine that they can score enough to give the Blues problems, but it also puts pressure on that back line to not concede, particularly with the return of Diego Costa to the Chelsea first 11.
QPR’s defence has struggled mightily this season.
QPR have suffered this year, in part, because they can’t settle on a defensive system. Like Manchester United, QPR started playing a back three featuring Steven Caulker, Rio Ferdinand, and Richard Dunne. That lasted two matches, as Ferdinand and Dunne showed their age and lack of mobility, especially when watching how Tottenham tore them to shreds.
Redknapp switched to a back four, which has stemmed the flow of goals, but they’ve still conceded quite a few. Part of the issue is that their two big signings, Rio Ferdinand and Steven Caulker, have really struggled to show any kind of form and have left gaps for the opponent to exploit. Ferdinand’s struggles shouldn’t be unexpected given the lack of matches he had at United last season coupled with his age. But Caulker’s struggles are a bit more of a concern. Two seasons ago, he was pushing for a starting spot at Tottenham and touted as a bright, young prospect for England. Now he’s struggling to make an impact at QPR and is starting to look like a major bust.
For QPR to win, they must be able to keep a Chelsea attack likely to feature Costa, Eden Hazard, Oscar, and Wilian at bay for 90 minutes. If they can’t keep a clean sheet, it’s hard to see them winning, especially when you consider the previous point.
QPR’s midfield signings have been disappointing.
QPR brought in a number of midfielders over the summer, but none of them have really had the desired impact on either protecting the back line or creating chances. Sandro was brought in from Tottenham, but has struggled with injury problems and lack of fitness. Jordon Mutch arrived off of a good season at Cardiff last year, but hasn’t shown that he can repeat that trick. Mauricio Isla was brought in on loan from Juventus with a big name and reputation, but hasn’t lived up to the hype. And let’s not start on the mystery that is Adel Taraabt or the headless chicken that is Leroy Fer.
The only midfielder that has shown any consistency this season is Niko Kranjcar, but even his impact has been minimal.
This unit will be facing the duo of Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic, and it’s hard to see how they’ll cope or break through that line given their performances this season. They will need to find a way to show more than they have so far this season.