Why we haven't used this photo before I'll never know. Also Romelu Lukaku looks enormous in the background, but you knew that already.
I don't like Queens Park Rangers very much. Obviously, there's the geography thing, although that's not really applicable to me, given that I live about 10 600 miles away from London anyway. There's the racism thing, of which I suppose a lot of Chelsea fans have some sort of grievance against QPR for, (even if that's not entirely fair). But the main reason I'm not fond of our close neighbours is because they are so tactically boring: there's no distinctive style of play, or curious formation. It's a stock standard 4-4-2 or 4-5-1, a system initated by the irritating Neil Warnock and continued by ex-Chelsea player Mark Hughes. I've got nothing against Hughes personally, but I would like to see his side have a bit more of a clearer ambition both on and off the pitch.*
*You might be wondering why this preview is going up earlier than usual, but the sad truth is international breaks are terribly, terribly boring.
This summer, QPR got a few people talking with their transfers, especially because some of the moves were plain bizarre, such as the signing of Esteban Granero, who would have been a decent pick up for one of the sides challenging for the title. They also signed two goalkeepers who would reasonably expect to be the first choice in goals, although I suppose the logic for Hughes is that both will make enough mistakes to give the other substantial game time.
In all, QPR's transfer policy resembled a scatter-gun approach, as owner Tony Fernandez was happy to fund moves for any player who seemingly became available. From Michael Dawson to Ricardo Carvalho, all sorts of players were linked, with twelve players in total eventually making the move to Loftus Road. Along with the fact that they have only played three games so far this season, it's hard to ascertain exactly what kind of team Mark Hughes will select for the Chelsea match. In QPR's three matches this year, a 4-4-2 sans 4-2-3-1 prototype has been the standard formation, although history suggests that Hughes would consider a switch to 4-5-1 to crowd out Chelsea's attack.
Having spent most of this preview so far attacking QPR's transfer strategy, there have been a few interesting buys and value for money signing. Stephane Mbia and Samba Diakite catch the eye in particular, and combined with Alejandro Faurlin Hughes has the option of playing with what would be an inherently defensive but fairly strong trio in the centre of the park.
He's mainly plumped for two in midfield however, with Park Ji-Sung being one half of the formula in their match against Swansea. The superior midfielders at Swansea simply laughed at this proposition and passed the ball around the ageing Korean. This clearly informed Hughes decision to move Park out to the left wing in their away match at Manchester City, and in my view, it's be a lot more effective strategy. It maximises the potential to get the most out of Park, as he's strongest when giving a defensive winger role. He's certainly done an impressive job neutralising Chelsea wingers in the past, most memorably in the title decider against Manchester United at the business end of the 2010-11 season.
Regardless of what formation Hughes plays or what midfielders he selects, it would be remiss on the managers part to exclude Esteban Granero from the starting XI, as the Spaniard is perhaps in terms of ability the most promising player Queens Park Rangers signed this summer. He's not the most spectacular midfielder, but he does a useful job in recycling possession and distributing play. Jose Mourinho mainly preferred him as a substitute in big matches in which Madrid had the lead, Granero's role being to drop the tempo of the game and close the scoreline out. He should have a much bigger role at QPR, and I'd certainly be wary of his ability to transition the ball quickly into attack.
These transitions are going to feasibly be the most dangerous element to QPR's game plan on Saturday. Junior Hoilett and Adel Taraabt are quite similar, tricky and flashy kind of wingers, and there's every chance that if a Chelsea defender is trapped in a 1v1 situation against one of the two then the QPR player could come out on top. In this sense, selecting Ramires might be useful in terms of neutralising any potential threat from the flank. With every strength however comes a weakness and there's a clear correlation between the two when it comes to Hoilett and Taraabt - both slacken off in the defensive phase and often leave their flank horrendously exposed. That sounds like a recipe for disaster against the fluid interchange of Eden Hazard and Juan Mata, and it will up to Hughes to decide whether this kind of weakness is suitably outweighed by their attacking threat. It could be the game's deciding factor, although the QPR defence might have something to say about that.
That's because the QPR defence is, in essence, terrible. They conceded sixty-six goals last season, and the additions of Jose Bosingwa and Fabio isn't really going to change anything, as both are fullbacks with a penchant for switching off and being completely inept positionally. Incredibly, both players started the last two Champions League finals: a testament perhaps not to their own quality but their respective team's woeful depth at right back.
Chelsea should be able to expose the QPR defence simply by running at it. Manchester City weren't playing at anything approaching their best, yet thanks to Carlos Tevez' direct and aggressive dribbling they were able to come away with all three points. City dominated possession, with QPR using long direct balls towards Andy Johnson and Bobby Zamora as the first plan of attack. It wasn't exactly pretty, and it means that Chelsea's centre backs are probably best served hanging back and allowing a multiple point of attack coming from the flank. In this sense, a 4-2-3-1 rather than a 4-3-3 is probably the way to go, as the 4-2-3-1 would allow Di Matteo to select one defensively minded winger and maintain balance across the attack.
This tactical preview has been undermined by QPR's squad instability and relative lack of matches so far this season. Hughes has a potentially powerful counter-attacking machine at his disposal**, but the signs suggest he'll be trotting out a basic 4-4-2 instead. Either way, Chelsea should dominate possession and look to the incisive creativity of their attackers to open up the match.
**For the record, I'd be selecting a QPR team as follows (from right to left): Cesar, Bosingwa, Ferdinand, Hill, Fabio, M'Bia, Diakite, Granero, Hoilett, Zamora, Park. Don't underestimate Park's ability on the transition.
|Form||L (Man City away), D (Norwich away), L (Swansea home)|
|Last match||3-1 loss to Manchester City|
|Key player||Unclear, but it surely has to be Jose Bosingwa, doesn't it?|
|Strengths||If they are on form, the midfield could be deadly.|
|Weaknesses||Did I mention the defence? Lack consistency.|