Midfield battle the key as Chelsea head to QPR as genuine title challengers
Preview: QPR v Chelsea
Chelsea’s opening goal at home to Everton last Saturday gave a glimpse of a past, present and future which epitomises why they head into their first west London league derby against QPR for 15 years as genuine title contenders.
The goal – the first in Chelsea’s sixth win of the season – came from a cross by Ashley Cole, in his fifth year at the club and winner of seven trophies, in a move started by �23.5 million summer signing Juan Mata, and finished by a 22-year-old emerging England striker in Daniel Sturridge.
That one single move summed up why Chelsea, despite starting the season in the shadow of the two Manchester clubs, might just have the perfect blend of experience, youth and world-class talent this season to deliver the Premier League trophy for the fourth time in seven years.
Much like at QPR, where the arrival of Tony Fernandes was hailed as the dawn of a new era, it is the future which is foremost in Chelsea’s mind, as they indicated by appointing manager Andre Villas-Boas from FC Porto; at 34, he is a full 18 years younger than his predecessor Carlo Ancelotti.
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Off the pitch, Chelsea’s future is the subject of controversy this week, after their proposed move away from Stamford Bridge ran into objections from fans.
The ‘Say No Chelsea Pitch Owners group’ [SNCPO], have rallied against CPO’s potential decision to sell the Stamford Bridge freehold to the club, and are demanding fans’ ownership of the freehold of any new stadium.
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The current owners are due to vote on the sale of the Stamford Bridge freehold on October 27.
The SNCPO also want assurances over the future of owner Roman Abramovich, who has pumped around �800million into the club since 2003, including another �150m on signings in 2011.
Such unrest is in contrast to Chelsea’s impressive start to the campaign. After drawing 0-0 at Stoke on the opening day, Villas-Boas’ side won six of their next seven games, scoring 20 goals, and losing only to champions Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Their 5-1 win at Bolton Wanderers and 3-1 triumph at home to Everton were both achieved without last season’s �50million signing Fernando Torres.
In his absence, Sturridge has shone on the right of Chelsea’s three-man attack and looks set to finally fulfil his potential, scoring three goals in the last two matches. Didier Drogba will lead the line, while on his left, Mata has adapted seamlessly to the rigours of Premier League football since he signed from Valencia.
Chelsea’s three-man central midfield can pose QPR real problems, and should he play, Adel Taarabt’s ability to help out pair Shaun Derry and Alejandro Faurlin will be crucial. Sunday will also be the moment for Joey Barton to raise his game; possession will be everything, or Chelsea’s central trio, which is likely to include the creative Frank Lampard, the industrious Raul Meireles and John Obi Mikel could pick Neil Warnock’s side apart.
Cole, John Terry and goalkeeper Petr Cech add vast experience to a settled defence, having been at the club for a combined total of 25 years. Terry will be joined either by the imposing Branislav Ivanovic, or the skilful David Luiz, with Jose Bosingwa at right-back.
The result is likely to be decided by QPR’s ability to match their rivals in midfield, and dictate the pace of the game. If they manage that, it could be a closer match than many neutrals are expecting – but Chelsea should have enough class to sneak a 1-0 win.
Follow Ian Cooper on Twitter @QPRTimes