QPR must keep their focus amid Chelsea frenzy
FA Cup preview: QPR v Chelsea
The first west London derby for 15 years always promised to be a tempestuous affair, but few could have imagined the extent of the fall-out from Rangers’ 1-0 win over Chelsea last October.
The intense rivalry between QPR and Chelsea hardly needed stoking up, but John Terry’s alleged racial abuse of Anton Ferdinand has only heightened the mutual ill-feeling in the stands, and has largely overshadowed the build-up to Saturday’s FA Cup fourth round clash.
Blues skipper Terry is due to answer those charges in court on February 1 and, understandably, it is the two centre-backs who will be the focus of attention when the teams walk out at high noon on Saturday.
The task of the managers is to keep their players’ minds on the pitch, and while the Cup may be of secondary importance to Premier League survival for Mark Hughes, it is a priority for Andre Villas-Boas.
Chelsea’s 0-0 draw at Norwich City on Saturday all but ended their Premier League hopes, leaving Villas-Boas’s side in fourth place, 13 points behind leaders Manchester City. Their silverware hopes now rest on the FA Cup and the Champions League, and failure on both fronts may cost the manager his job.
It will be a source of some satisfaction to Rs fans that their side’s narrow league win four months ago sparked a down-turn in form for Chelsea from which they have never fully recovered. It was only their second defeat of the season, and was followed almost immediately by disastrous home losses to Arsenal and Liverpool.
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Villas-Boas’s side slid out of the Carling Cup, again to Liverpool, while Aston Villa became the third side of the season to breach a once impregnable Stamford Bridge, coming from 1-0 down to win 3-1.
As Chelsea continue to toil, so too does striker Fernando Torres, the man for whom every game without a goal (now 16) sees his �50 million price tag weigh heavier around his neck. With Didier Drogba at the Africa Cup of Nations, Torres has another chance to end the drought on Saturday. He is likely to be flanked by Daniel Sturridge and Juan Mata, both of whom have outshone the Spaniard this season.
They will be supported by a three-man midfield, which will be minus the services of Frank Lampard, who has a calf strain, but could see Michael Essien make his first start of the season having recovered from an anterior cruciate ligament injury. Ramires, Raul Meireles and Spain Under-21 Oriol Romeu could also figure.
Chelsea’s defence has tightened up in recent weeks, keeping three consecutive clean sheets despite questions marks over the form of centre-backs Terry and David Luiz. That is likely to be the pairing which QPR will face, with Ashley Cole occupying left-back and Jose Bosingwa on the right.
Bosingwa conceded a penalty and was sent off at Loftus Road in the first meeting between the two sides, on a day when QPR bullied the visitors into submission, and Hughes will no doubt encourage a repeat performance.
It promises to be another feverish afternoon in west London and, as with all great dramas, it will end with a cliffhanger, as a 1-1 draw sets up a deciding replay at Stamford Bridge.
Follow Ian Cooper on Twitter @QPRTimes