Quarterly Report: West London
West London has been one the most glamorous locations for the visiting football fans for a long time. Of all the clubs in the region, Chelsea, Fulham and Queens Park Rangers are plying their trade in the topmost tier of English Football this season, with Chelsea and Fulham being the most consistent in retaining their top status. Let’s take a look into how these clubs fared in the past 3 odd months. Our first stop, Loftus Road, the home of Queens Park Rangers.
Queens Park Rangers
Owner: Tony Fernandes
Manager: Mark Hughes
It might have been one of the most dramatic escapes on one of the most exhilarating day of English Football, when Manchester City won the league in the dying seconds against QPR. QPR managed to stay in top flight for one more season. Mark Hughes got the backing of his owner, which allowed him to bring in 11 players in the summer with Esteban Granero, Stefan M’Bia, Junior Hoilett, Julio Cesar, Fabio and Jose Bosingwa being the notable ones.
As expected, the new look side got thrashed 5-0 by Swansea on the opening day, and then went on to earn 0 wins in the 11 matches they have played in the league so far. Their one and only win is against second tier side Walsall in the League Cup. The only high points so far would be the draws against Chelsea and Everton at home. With the kind of support QPR fans provide to their team, it is always hard for any opposition team to play at Loftus Road. On the whole, they have shipped 23 goals in 13 games including the League Cup. The only positive thing is that Southampton has a much worse equation, So, the future already looks bright for Tony and Co.
With a defense that is as fragile as a snowflake, and almost 65% of the goals being conceded from inside the box, one can incur the shambolic nature of the QPR defense. They have been most susceptible to headers emerging from crosses, which highlights the weakness on the flanks. Esteban Granero might be a good player, but his stand-out performances owe only his below average team-mates. Without any proper cover for the defense, and Diakite being positionally ill only adds to the problem. The team has proved to be physically strong, but they are not playing to Premier League standards. Mark Hughes needs to sort the issues and instil more defensive discipline into the team.
Now, driving on to the merrier side of London, Stamford Bridge on Fulham Road, the home of the European Champions, Chelsea.
Owner: Roman Abramovich
Manager: Roberto Di Matteo
My prediction of a 2nd place finish for Chelsea in my preview still stands after a period of exciting, nail-biting and awesome performances from the men in blue. Exceeding expectations, Hazard and Oscar have catapulted themselves to face the challenges posed by the English game and they have done that in style. They have settled in seamlessly and integrated into the attack along with Mata. Chelsea fans have named the trio “MaZaCar”, “ The 3 Mazacateers” and what not. The idea being, everyone is happy.
The 4-2-3-1 has become the standard formation for Di Matteo and very rarely he had to retort to change in shape. Getting goals hasn’t been much of a problem until the recent stalemates against Swansea and Liverpool. From the word go, The Blues have shown attacking prowess with Hazard taking on defenses and Oscar nullifying opponents and Mata making the set pieces count. The first 3 games ended on a happy note, but then came the slap in the face in the form of Athletico Madrid and Falcao.
It took 2 matches for Di Matteo and Co. to come back to winning ways, blowing a 2 goal lead against Juventus was a bit disappointing. Then started the second spell of winning streak in all fronts, Wolves in League Cup, Norsjaelland in UCL, Tottenham and Arsenal in the League. The match against Man United was one of those forgettable nights for the Chelsea faithful and Mark Clattenburg. An extra time win against Fergie and Co. in the League Cup served as revenge. But, by this time, all that flamboyance and trickery seemed to have died down. Drab performances against Swansea, Shakhtar and Liverpool came under extreme scrutiny. One must have seen this coming from a long way. The team is still a work in progress, and it was bound to produce such results as time passed.
Also, the absence of John Terry has opened the doors for the opponents. Chelsea have conceded double the number of goals when Terry was not on the pitch. The duo of Mikel and Ramires have been impressive, but they need to put in that extra bit to track players running into the box, and Willian’s goals are an example for this. One might argue there is not enough cover being provided by Mata and Hazard from the flanks, as players skip past the Chelsea midfield into Petr Cech’s territory. Fernando Torres continues to be in his own league, as he shows very little signs of turning on his old self. His indecisiveness inside the box has voiced opinions from all corners that he has been given enough chances to prove himself.
The stand-out performers so far have been Oscar, Mata and Hazard. They have the following combined tally.
Avg. Games Played
Pass Success Rate
Avg. Shots per game
Avg. Key Passes per game
Avg. Pass Success
Shots per game
The team as a whole has been impressive to say the least, but the real test is in December for Di Matteo, when the Club World Cup comes up. New signings in January are a possibility, considering the rumors running around. A defensive midfielder will be the obvious option, as the options are bleak if one of Ramires or Mikel gets injured. Fellaini from Everton would be a possible choice.
Just travelling down the Fulham Road along the Broadway, we reach the banks of the Thames which is the home of another decorated club in Fulham. Craven Cottage has been the home of Fulham since 1896, one of the oldest clubs in London.
Owner: Mohamed Al-Fayed
Manager: Martin Jol
Martin Jol knew it would be tough to keep a talent like Dembele at the cottage for long. And his fears were rewarded with a bid from Tottenham, which was eventually accepted and one of the brightest talents in the league travelled north along with American Clint Dempsey. It was time to fill the vacancies and boy did the manager do that, in style. Dimitar Berbatov finally left Man United and came to join his former manager. Also among the new faces were Mladen Petric, Ashkan Dejagah, Kieran Richardson and Hugo Rodallega.
Berbatov proved to be an outstanding success, as he racked up 5 goals and 3 assists in 7 appearances. It was high time his talent was put to a better use, and Martin Jol seems to found the right player in Berba. Apart from his technical ability, his eye for goal and movement give a very easy target for his team-mates to find. Bryan Ruiz being one of those key players. His ability to hold up the play and release players into spaces is amazing considering his relatively lesser mobility similar to Berba.
In the journey up to October, the Cottagers have won 4 and lost 3 of their 11 premier league games. Their opening day demolition of Norwich and a tight match against Man United at Old Trafford, and most recently the draw against Arsenal at the Emirates, are a few of their notable performances. They sit 9th in the table, comfortable with 16 points and a goal difference of 5. The manager has mostly used a 4-4-2 with attacking fullbacks in Riise and Riether, and wingers in Kackaniklic and Duff. This strategy has opened space on the flanks for the opponent teams to exploit, and that is where most of the goals are being conceded. Chris Baird and Mahamadou Diarra have been decent throughout, be it their positional sense or launching and destroying attacks.
Berbatov, Ruiz, Duff, Baird and Schwarzer have been Fulham’s best players so far this season. The departure of Dembele and Dempsey seems to have no impact on the team, as their replacements have been exceptional. Only, more games into the future might blow up some cracks. Otherwise, a consistent run into the New Year, and possibly a new centre back in January must be enough for Fulham to finish in the top half the table.
Avg. Pass Success Rate
Shots per Game
So, that’s about it. The tale of three clubs covering the whole span of the Barclays Premier League Table. We will be back with another report after Christmas. Till then, sit tight and enjoy some great football.