Chelsea’s most feasible route into next season’s Champions League now looks to be through winning this year’s tournament, and so we should expect next month’s final to take precedence. But that doesn’t mean that Roberto di Matteo’s side will roll over and surrender the three points against QPR this weekend.
I’d expect that between now and the end of the season any Chelsea players with niggling injuries will be suitably rested ahead of the Champions League and FA Cup finals. With so many players set to miss the European showpiece through suspension Di Matteo simply cannot afford to risk playing players in league matches who may not be fully fit.
That means Gary Cahill, Ryan Bertrand and David Luiz will join the suspended Branislav Ivanovic on the sidelines for this one.
However, the performance against Arsenal, in a match where Di Matteo made sweeping changes, shows that it is the whole Stamford Bridge squad that have bought into the new regime’s ways; not just the first choice XI.
Rangers come into this match just a point above the drop zone and in the thick of a merciless relegation battle. With a trip to the Etihad Stadium to come on the final day of the season one gets the feeling that they must target both this match, and next week’s home game against Stoke.
In order to take anything from Stamford Bridge, however, they must improve on an away record that is the worst in the Premier League. And must do so without the creative spark of Adel Taarabt who serves a one-game ban following his red card against Tottenham.
The pre-match handshakes have been dispensed with due to John Terry’s impeding court case for allegedly racially abusing Anton Ferdinand the last time that the clubs met in the league. The decision should help avoid similar scenes to those seen at Old Trafford when Luis Suarez refused to shake Patrice Evra’s hand, but that isn’t to say things won’t get a little feisty once the game kicks off. You can get odds of 4.50 that Terry is shown a card in the game and 4.00 that Ferdinand goes into the referee’s notebook.
The Match Odds market prices Chelsea at 1.42, QPR at 8.00 and the draw at 4.50. Those odds on the home side are perhaps slightly bigger than we would have expected considering their recent form, but obviously take into consideration the physiological effects of recent excursions. The Match Odds market isn’t one that I’d be too enamoured to get involved in, with the draw seemingly the value punt.
Instead I’d advise focussing attentions on the goals markets. QPR’s recent upturn in fortunes has been built upon a strengthening of their defensive unit, having conceded just three goals in their last four matches – two of which came with ten men against Manchester United at Old Trafford. And you don’t need met to tell you that Chelsea have also tightened up at the back considerably under Di Matteo.
The two previous meetings between the clubs this season have ended with a 1-0 scoreline, while the only other two meetings this millennium – one in the Carling Cup and one in the FA Cup – were also decided by the odd goal. I expect Mark Hughes would settle for a point if you offered him it before kick-off and it wouldn’t really be the worst result for Chelsea.
Despite the above stats suggesting a low-scoring game we can still get 2.30 on Under 2.5 goals and a massive 4.70 on there being fewer than 1.5 goals.
PREDICTION: Chelsea 0-0 QPR
BEST BET: Under 2.5 goals @ 2.30