Chelsea can win QPR grudge match if they keep their cool
Cool heads will be required as Blues return to Loftus Road, scene of the John Terry racism row
The standout match on the English Premier League programme is QPR v Chelsea, although it is unfortunate that the interest surrounding the game stems mainly from the darker side of football.
The atmosphere at Loftus Road is sure to be incendiary as John Terry returns to the scene of the racism row that engulfed him last season and has still not been resolved almost 12 months on. With Anton Ferdinand likely to take his place in the QPR defence, there will be bad feeling on both sides and the expected abuse from the crowd will show football fans in a bad light – only three weeks after the shameful booing of Aaron Ramsey by the Stoke fans.
If Chelsea can keep their cool and concentrate on the match, they look an attractive bet despite the short odds. Roberto Di Matteo’s side have started fast, with Eden Hazard settling quickly and bringing a much-needed vibrancy to midfield, and they look capable of repeating the efficiency of their 2-0 win at Wigan in their first away game of the season.
This is developing into a new-look Chelsea under Di Matteo, who wasn’t in charge for the 1-0 defeat at Loftus Road last season when Chelsea ended with nine men, but with the grittiness still intact. Chelsea have won five out of 11 on the road in all competitions under Di Matteo but most of them were difficult fixtures and it is just as notable that they have lost only two.
QPR were busy in the transfer window as Mark Hughes tries to build a side capable of staying in the Premier League, but there is little evidence of them being anything but a bottom-eight side at best. Considering Di Matteo’s Chelsea have won six out of six home and away against teams from last season’s bottom eight, the visitors look a solid bet.
The early weeks of the season are always fascinating as everyone tries to evaluate the true form and two teams who might – or might not – be risers into the top six are involved in tonight’s late match when Sunderland host Liverpool.
It is interesting that Sunderland have outperformed Liverpool by six points in the period since Martin O’Neill took charge in December, and that’s despite a winless run of eight games at the end of last season when they appeared to lose interest after being knocked out of the FA Cup.
Liverpool have not yet started moving forward under Brendan Rodgers and on form they would have to improve to beat Sunderland, who look a decent bet on the handicap.
Even an under-strength Manchester United should be too good for Wigan, but Manchester City won’t expect an easy ride at Stoke. City haven’t won at the intimidating Britannia stadium in five league and cup visits since Stoke were promoted (four were draws after 90 minutes), although they have won five and drawn one elsewhere (including their FA Cup final triumph at Wembley last year).
Under 2.5 goals (which has occurred in all five of City’s games at Stoke) looks the bet.
Undefeated Swansea take their good early form to struggling Aston Villa, while West Ham (whose only loss was self-inflicted at Swansea) go to Norwich. Both of the hosts have low win rates and leaky defences, which makes Swansea and West Ham worth considering on the handicap. Swansea were devastating on the counter-attack in their 5-0 opening-day win at QPR, while Villa conceded three in their first home game against Everton. West Ham were solid on the road last season with only four defeats out of 23 in the Championship.
Plenty of goals can be expected at Arsenal as they take on bottom club Southampton, whose matches are averaging four goals per game so far this season. This is a good opportunity for the Gunners to build on their impressive win at Liverpool, with over 2.5 goals and Arsenal on the handicap both good bets.
Fulham v West Brom is a tricky call. The hosts’ good home form has a strong pull at decent odds, but West Brom have made one of the most impressive starts considering their first three games have all been against teams that finished in the top eight last season.
Everton v Newcastle is similarly difficult, with little to choose between the two sides. Tottenham will be expected to take three points at Reading but still aren’t an attractive betting proposition until they start to show winning form for Andre Villas-Boas.
TOP 5 BETS
1 West Ham on handicap Shaping up as solid newcomers under Sam Allardyce
2 Swansea on handicap High-scoring start gives them a good chance at Villa
3 Chelsea away win Can continue strong form for Roberto Di Matteo
4 Nottingham Forest home win Fast developing into serious promotion contenders
5 Monchengladbach home win No sign yet of a decline from last season’s high standards
West Ham, Swansea, Chelsea, Nottingham Forest, Monchengladbach, Malaga.
TODAY (10pm unless stated)
Arsenal v Southampton, Aston Villa v Swansea, Fulham v West Brom, Manchester United v Wigan, Norwich v West Ham, QPR v Chelsea, Stoke v Manchester City, Sunderland v Liverpool (00.30am, Sun)
Reading v Tottenham (11pm)