QUEENS Park Rangers were robust and defiant as they snuffed out a perfect start for the European champions.
Steely-edged Rangers, marshalled by the inspirational duo of Esteban Granero and Alejandro Faurlín, were good value for a draw – coming close to all three points on occasions.
By comparison the visitors from SW6 looked lacklustre at times, but always likely to threaten as the hosts guarded against complacency and fought fearlessly for their point.
Spurned chances from Eden Hazard, Park Ji Sung and Bobby Zamora were the best both sides could muster in a keenly-fought encounter, with both contented with the resultant stalemate.
Mark Hughes made just the solitary change from the side that came up short at champions Manchester City – recent signing from Inter Milan, Julio Cesar, made his first start at the expense of Rob Green.
Cesar started behind a defence of ex-Chelsea man Jose Bosingwa, Anton Ferdinand, Ryan Nelsen and Fabio da Silva. The midfield quartet consisted of Shaun Wright-Phillips, Esteban Granero and Park Ji Sung with Andrew Johnson partnering Bobby Zamora in attack.
Chelsea made two changes from the team that was royally thumped by Atletico Bilbao in the Super Cup. Juan Mata and Gary Cahill made way with Ryan Bertrand and John Terry coming into the line-up.
Petr Cech started behind a rearguard of Branislav Ivanovic, Terry, David Luiz and Ashley Cole. John Mikel Obi, Ramires and Frank Lampard started in midfield with Bertrand and Eden Hazard playing off Fernando Torres.
KICK OFF: QUEENS PARK RANGERS v CHELSEA
Handshakes at dawn – all the pre-match talk on every media outlet surrounded John Terry, Anton Ferdinand and a pre-match pleasantry. Very few eyes were on the occasion itself – one which the hosts relished and searched for when the fixtures were released.
Matters settled and Anton refusing a handshake from either Terry or his associate Ashley Cole – focus could be firmly on a West London derby, played out under the beating sun in W12. The fans were vocal in a cauldron of noise at Loftus Road.
The frenetic opening matched the vociferous atmosphere with the crowd urging the players on to some excellent early tackles and touches. It was Chelsea however that carved out the opening opportunity.
Ramires’ useful movement down the right saw him pick out an excellent centre to Eden Hazard – the Belgian’s snap shot rather belied his princely sum as Julio Cesar made a smart save low to his left, snuffing out any potential rebound.
Rangers were attacking but disciplined, only being scythed open on the counter-attack on the isolated occasion. Tackles were firm but fair, as the competitive edge was not lost on the two teams in a feisty West London derby.
Ramires was in fact the first to go in the book after lunging at Granero on the counter-attack. Referee Mariner was keen to keep the cards in his pocket and try to diffuse any angst on the field – Lampard was particularly vocal for the visitors who seemed discontented.
QPR fashioned their best chance to date on the 15 minute mark when some useful interplay from Park and Fabio da Silva saw Zamora twist in the area. The former Fulham front-man could only fire a tame effort with his weaker right-foot, into the midriff of Petr Cech.
The visitors returned stronger with Fernando Torres – scorer of a hatrick in the return fixture last season at Stamford Bridge. The Spaniard turned neatly on the edge of the area before firing a rasping drive – ably fielded by debutant Cesar, pushed away handsomely to safety.
As one might have expected, John Terry and Ashley Cole were receiving some vocal treatment from the partisan home crowd who were attempting to destabilise the composure of the Chelsea rearguard.
20 minutes gone and Fabio had to make way with an injury – Nedum Onuoha came on in his stead, pushing Bosingwa to left-back and the former Manchester City man slotted in at a familiar right-back berth.
Ryan Bertrand could consider himself rather lucky not to have seen red when he flew in from behind on former Chelsea wide-man Shaun Wright-Phillips. It was reckless and by the letter of the law, arguably a dismissal, but the England youngster received a caution to the chagrin of the hosts.
Andrew Johnson was forging a useful partnership with Zamora – making neat runs off his strike partner. He did however end up in a heap by the Ellerslie Road stand and was forced to trot off around in front of the Chelsea fans – replaced by Jamie Mackie.
35 minutes gone and David Luiz had a glorious opportunity to open the scoring. Lampard’s corner from the right fell perfectly for the skilful Brazilian who powered a ferocious header high, wide and handsome of the right-hand upright.
It was a warning for Rangers’ defender who had acquitted themselves excellently throughout the half and a rare lapse in concentration nearly cost them dear. The pace had somewhat simmered, but the fiery undercurrent still ran deep.
Chelsea attempted to probe their way beyond a stubborn Rangers unit, who were being excellently marshalled by the central midfield pairing of Faurlín and Granero – combative, intelligent and visionary.
Mackie was to have the final chance of the half however – attempting a carve out an angle in a disciplined Chelsea defence, only to see his well-worked effort canon back off David Luiz and away to safety – the final action of a keenly-fought half.
HALF TIME: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 0-0 CHELSEA
Mark Hughes evidently had his man fired up after the break and this was borne out on the field of play when his charges set about their task with great vigour. Hazard pushed forward with intent but was snuffed out at every angle by a stubborn defensive line.
Nelsen in particular was dominant over Fernando Torres who let his frustrations over on numerous occasions – quite how Mr Mariner omitted to book the beleaguered Spaniard as he threw all manner of gestures in his direction is beyond me.
His compatriot Granero was composure personified in the heat of battle, firing in a succession of fine crosses – one of which should have given Rangers the advantage. His drifted ball for Park Ji Sung saw the South Korean unmarked, but nod straight at a grateful Cech.
Bertrand’s influence on the encounter was waning and he was replaced by summer capture Victor Moses. His influence was certainly more profound, getting into the thick of the action and providing more cutting thrust in the attacking third.
Alejandro Faurlín was next to test Chelsea, finding space in behind the visiting midfield to fire a left-footed drive that rose harmlessly high and right of the target – Wright-Phillips meanwhile was becoming more of an influence.
The tricky wide-man latched onto a fine Granero lofted pass, before firing a speculative drive wide of the right-hand upright. With a little more luck and precision it would have troubled Cech, but the confidence seems to be returning to a once reputable winger.
It was his last action of the fixture as he was replaced by Djibril Cissé, Rangers final substitute. Moments later it was his effort and commitment that nearly earned the hosts a fortunate opener – David Luiz at fault for the visitors.
Cissé and Zamora harried the Brazilian – who played a pass too short for Cech. Zamora nipped in while the Chelsea defenders flew back to defend their target. Cech clipped the forward’s legs who to his credit stayed on his feet, but could only pick out Cole on the line as a glorious opportunity went awry.
Both teams were still competitive, if a tad weary. The spectacle was becoming less vociferous as Daniel Sturridge come on for Torres. Hazard however missed a glorious opportunity to take all three points back to SW6.
Excellent work by Moses down the left saw the former Wigan Athletic man pick out the unmarked Belgian on the edge of the six-yard box. Inexplicably his drilled a rasping effort high, wide and handsome to rather compound the quality of a fixture bereft of that finishing touch.
Chelsea were looking weary, misplacing passes and misjudging tackles, while the hosts themselves were looking tired but eradicating the mistakes from their game that blighted their opening weeks of the campaign.
In the end both sides will be happy with a point in a fixture where anyone with that piece of extra class, cutting edge and guile would have separated the two sides. A point to build on for Rangers while Chelsea remain top.
FULL TIME: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 0-0 CHELSEA