LONDON, England, September 14 – It is nearing a year since Chelsea’s visit to Queens Park Rangers sparked controversy but this west London derby continues to be overshadowed by allegations relating to John Terry and Anton Ferdinand.
Since that meeting on October 23, both clubs have changed managers and overhauled their teams — Rangers especially so — while Terry’s appearance at Westminster magistrates court ended with the Chelsea defender being found not guilty of racially abusing Ferdinand.
The issue is not closed, however, with Terry still facing FA charges relating to the incident which will be heard at the end of the month.
Tensions, then, still exist and, with Ferdinand apparently indicating he will refuse to shake the hand of Terry, the two clubs were in talks ahead of this game that are set to see the cancellation of the usual pre-match handshake.
That only intensifies the rivalry surrounding the meeting of the local rivals and this time Chelsea must show far greater discipline than they did on their previous league visit last October.
That game at Loftus Road was already destined to be recalled for its controversies long before the Terry-Ferdinand allegations emerged with the Blues reduced to nine men following the first half sendings off of Jose Bosingwa and Didier Drogba after Heidar Helguson had netted the home side’s match-winner.
It’s possible Ferdinand could be the only survivor of that Rangers victory, providing he recovers from a shoulder injury while around half the Chelsea team will be different and Bosingwa now lines up for QPR.
Andre Villas-Boas oversaw that defeat last October, a result that triggered a disastrous run which led to the Portuguese’s dismissal in March when he was replaced as Chelsea manager by Roberto di Matteo.
The Italian’s side has a fresher look to it, particularly following the arrival of Eden Hazard from Lille.
The playmaker has settled instantly into the Premier League following his £32 million transfer and had already conjured five assists in three games before Chelsea’s domestic campaign was put on pause by the international break with the team having collected nine points.
Hazard’s challenge now is to maintain his excellent start but the Belgium international is happy with his contribution so far.
“I love to set up my team-mates,” he said. “I am not here to be a star, to show off. I am here to play for the others, but if I have to try and clinch a game then I will.”
And he added: “It’s totally different here. With Lille we could have gone to the South of France and people would not have recognised us.
“But at Chelsea, the players are at another level. Everything has changed for me — the language, the country — but it is up to me to adapt.”
As impressive as Chelsea’s league opening has been, however, they were well beaten 4-1 by Atletico Madrid in the European Super Cup and QPR will hope to exploit any loss of confidence.
Mark Hughes’s new look side have gained just one point from their opening three games but winger James Mackie admits they have added motivation going into this game.
“This is the one everyone really wants to be involved in,” Mackie said.
“As players, you relish games like this and I know the fans will be feeling exactly the same.
“Last season’s victory was fantastic for everyone involved, but that’s the past now and it’s up to us to try and replicate that result this weekend.
“We can turn over the best this league has to offer on our own patch, so I’ve got every confidence.”