Ah the majesty of an intra-city rivalry; one club with a proud tradition that's gone through relegation and had to claw its way back to the top flight, the other a perennial European presence and league champion contender; the local legends versus the noisy upstarts down the road.
We must be talking about the most interesting Derby of the week - QPR vs Chelsea!
Queens Park Rangers face their toughest challenge yet since winning promotion to the Premier League, and have to perform better in their second London Derby than the dreadful result against Fulham. Their recent run of matches have been a bit disconcerting for the faithful, and it will take a monumental performance to take anything positive from the match. But they do hold one advantage this week - playing in front of the Loftus Road crowd. Is there any group of supporters as riled up and ready to give voice to their team than the Ranger's boys this week? Expect a loud day as R's fans cheer on the Super Hoops to trump their neighbors.
Chelsea's dismantling of Genk in the Champion's League this week demonstrated their key advantage over QPR - the ability to play ninety minutes with steady pace and constant offensive pressure. Their style of play is simply much faster and more disciplined than the R's. The decision making and vision their players have shown this season will be a challenge for the current squad to keep up with, and a great deal of the game plan will be about QPR trying to obstruct and defend against that. This task will be made harder by the continuing absence of Danny Gabbidon, who will miss the clash as he recovers from his knee injury, leaving Fitz Hall once again to cover the centre back with Anton Ferdinand. Clint Hill has been recalled from his brief loan at Nottingham Forest, so he may be in the mix as well with Bradley Orr another option.
Rather than just sitting back and holding on for dear life, QPR need to run their own game, working possession and short, smart passing to build up offensive movement. The best way to counteract Chelsea's vicious forward game is to deny it opportunities by keeping the ball and making them work to achieve anything. The Hoops have done this with some degree of success this season, but have been inconsistent of late and need to focus on slowing things down and forcing Chelsea to react to them. If they stand flat footed and get into the habit of making risky passes or trying to rush things, they'll open themselves up to another thrashing like the one Fulham handed out two weeks ago.
Manager Neil Warnock shared that sentiment this week, saying: “I’d rather have a go and lose, than create nothing and still get beat. That Blackburn game has the makings of us and Chelsea on Sunday, and I’m not going the same way.”
That spirit is laudable and given the opponent, the right way to go. Better to go down swinging than to just take a beating. Chelsea will find a way to score no matter what - the R's challenge will be delivering their own chances and battling to keep themselves in the game. QPR's odds are long, but they seem more geared up and ready for this clash than they were against Fulham. If nothing else they have to avoid conceding so many scores, and focus on trying to manage the game and create opportunities where they can.
It remains to be seen which striker will start, but it would not be a shock to see Heidar Helguson and/or Jamie Mackie featured again. Warnock has little to lose in this match, and may opt to see what the pair can do again after their strong showing against Blackburn. Jay Bothroyd still has a role to play, but fans are clamoring for more potency up front, and he has struggled to distinguish himself thus far.
Also on tap will be the return of mercurial centre midfielder Adel Taraabt to the starting lineup. He was quick off the bench last week, but over eager and left with little to show at the end of the match. He will feature prominently in any attack the R's can put together, but it remains to be seen whether he can produce with the spotlight shining so brightly on him. Perhaps the chance to show his quality against a top rated opponent will draw out the best in him. QPR will need that - along with first class efforts from everyone - to get anything from this fixture.
If nothing else expect an active and exciting game, to shake off the boredom of last week's snoozer against Rovers. Loftus Road seats less than half that of Stamford Bridge, but the noise will outmatch it this weekend.
Come on you R'ssss!