Evening all! Arguably the tie of the week comes from Loftus Road as basement club Queens Park Rangers
welcome high-flying Manchester City
to London. The R’s are currently five points from safety with just 15 matches to play, while Roberto Mancini’s side start the evening five points behind pace-setters Manchester United.
It was confirmed earlier today that Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli will depart the club tomorrow to head for AC Milan. He is not in the squad this evening, with reports suggesting that he is already on his way to Italy. Like him or loathe him, we will certainly miss the entertainment he has provided. Mario, it has been a pleasure.
QPR boss Harry Redknapp blasted his players for their performance in Saturday’s FA Cup defeat to League One outfit MK Dons, but the Englishman is expected to make a number of changes this evening. There was no such disappointment for City, however, with Mancini negotiating a 1-0 win over Stoke City to advance to the fifth round of the competition.
Although the R’s have noticeably improved since Redknapp took charge of the club, they remain in deep relegation trouble. At this point last season, when they eventually avoided relegation by a single point, they were six points better off than they are at this point in time. Redknapp will be keen to avoid a similar fate as he suffered while in charge of Southampton in 2004/2005, when the Saints were relegated from the Premier League. Right, the team news is just into us.
QPR: Cesar; Onuoha, Nelsen, Hill, Traore; Mbia, Derry; Fabio, Granero, Taarabt; Remy
MAN CITY: Hart; Zabaleta, Garcia, Lescott, Clichy; Milner, Barry; Nasri, Aguero, Silva, Tevez
So there we have it. QPR are able to call upon recent signing Loic Remy despite suggestions that he could miss the match through injury. Meanwhile, Fabio will play in an advanced three alongside Esteban Granero and Adel Taarabt. City are without Vincent Kompany through injury, with Javi Garcia coming into the defence. Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez are named in attack.
Back to QPR. Recent statistics do not read well for the club when falling behind in games. In fact they have failed to win any of the 16 league games this season where they have conceded the opening goal. Should they suffer defeat this evening would be their 100th loss in the Premier League and plunge them further into trouble with their rivals facing winnable matches this week.
They will once more look to Adel Taarabt to provide their attacking invention this evening with the Moroccan either scoring or assisting in four of their last five goals in the league. The talented playmaker, who has really come into his own this season, has been linked with a move away from Loftus Road, but it does appear that he will remain with the club until at least the end of the season.
As mentioned, QPR have lost each of their last three meetings against Manchester City. They were impressive in the corresponding fixture last season, but failed to hold onto their lead as City came back to win 3-2. It got better for City at the Etihad last season, when they scored in the final minute to claim the Premier League title on goal difference, with QPR securing survival on the same afternoon.
The two sides have already met in the league this season at the Etihad, with City running out comfortable 3-1 winners. You have to go back to 1995 for the last time that QPR picked up all three points against City, when Simon Barker scored the only goal of the afternoon at Loftus Road. A similar scoreline this evening would go a long way to convince the club’s supporters that they can remain in the Premier League this season.
The home side will have to go against recent history, however, if they are to remain in the league this season. They are the 13th side in Premier League history to have won 15 points or fewer after 23 games. Of those 13, just three avoided relegation, the latest being Wigan Athletic last season. Has Redknapp been on the phone to Latics boss Roberto Martinez?
City, meanwhile, have won their last four league games and six of their previous seven. They currently top the form table in the league with 15 points from the last 18 an offer and have cut the gap on leaders Manchester United in recent weeks. Quite remarkably, they have not conceded a single goal in 2013, keeping clean sheets in their last five matches in all competitions.
David Silva was their match-winner in their last league game against Fulham. The Spaniard scored twice in the 2-0 win, having scored just once in his previous 29 games for club and country. However, he has failed to score away from home in 14 months. That strike was against QPR in the corresponding clash last season.
City have also been in ominous form in matches where they have taken the lead this season. They are yet to lose a single league game after opening the scoring, winning 12 times and drawing just once. They will see tonight’s match as the type of game that they simply have to win if they are to overhaul Manchester United at the top of the table.
It appears that the home side will have to be on their guard this evening in the latter stages of the match, meanwhile, with City scoring 11 goals in the final 15 minutes of league matches this season, the most of any side. They have also been awarded six penalties this season, with Chelsea (eight) the only side to have received a greater number.
Edin Dzeko, who is on the bench this evening, has certainly enjoyed playing against QPR since joining the club having scored at least once in his last three Premier League matches against the club. With Carlos Tevez struggling for goals, Sergio Aguero with injury and Mario Balotelli off to AC Milan, then the Bosnian has taken the role of the main striker at the club. Something which he has long demanded.
Let’s take a closer look at how both sides have fared in the league this season. QPR have the 13th-best defence in the league, having conceded 37 times in their 23 matches. However, City boast the best defence this season, conceding just 19 times, keeping 10 clean sheets in the process. Down the other end, QPR have scored the least goals with 18, while City have scored the fourth-highest with 45.
QPR will not take too much heart from their home record this season, meanwhile, having won just one of their 11 matches on their own turf, losing five times in the process. City have lost just once in the league on their travels, a defeat to Sunderland in December. That said, there is just something about this match which makes you believe that recent form counts for nothing.
Just a quick word on the current relegation picture with 15 matches remaining. QPR are joined in the bottom three by Wigan Athletic, who have 19 points, and Reading, who also have 19. Ahead of them sit Aston Villa on 20 points, behind Newcastle United on 21. Even Southampton and Fulham are not out of the picture as things stand. According to many reputable bookmakers, Reading, QPR and Aston Villa will depart England’s top league at the end of the season.
Just a quick note on the QPR bench for this evening. Redknapp has named three goalkeepers in the 18-man squad this evening, with Rob Green and Brian Murphy on the sidelines. I suspect that the Englishman is attempting to pass on a subtle message to those above him. Unless Green is going to get the final 10 minutes in attack? I would not rule anything out in this crazy sport.
Here we go then. Both sets of players join us on the pitch ahead of kickoff. Following the completion of the pre-match handshakes and the exchanging of flags, we will be ready to get the action underway. Just about time for my pre-match prediction. I can see QPR taking something from this match. I am backing a 2-2 draw.
Tonight's referee is Phil Dowd. Let's hope that we are discussing the football and not the officials come the end of the evening. On another note, tonight will be Ryan Nelsen's last appearance for QPR before he takes over at Toronto. Here we go then. The away side get the action underway.
Decent start from City with Mancini's side immediately gaining control of the possession. They attempt to attack down the left with Gael Clichy, but Mbia is across to clear the danger. I suspect that QPR will have to get used to be without the ball for long periods of this match. All City in the very early stages of this match.
It's good work from Taarabt as the QPR playmaker picks up possession before darting into the City half, but Carlos Tevez comes back to make the challenge. The possession from the home side does not last too long as City gain control once more. However, there is not too much room outside the R's penalty area as the danger is cleared by Nelson.
Not too much to get excited about in terms of chances in the opening six minutes of this match, while each side has just started to exchange spells of possession in the last few moments. QPR have attempted to find Taarabt at each opportunity, but the City midfield has remained nice and compact thus far. You just get the feeling that the opening goal - if there indeed is one - could have a huge say on the final result.
The home supporters continue to make their voices known in the early stages of the match as they attempt to rouse their team in attack. City have just started to take control of the match once more with Aguero darting into the penalty area before striking an effort on goal, but it deflects off Hill and behind for a corner.
The resulting corner is taken by Silva, a half-chance comes to Lescott in the penalty area as he meets the high ball, but he can only fire his effort over the crossbar. The defender perhaps could have done slightly better from that position. However, the away side have certainly started the match on the front foot. Nothing much from Loic Remy in the QPR attack thus far.
QPR enjoy their turn with possession as Fabio advances down the left before whipping a low cross into the City penalty area, but with just one target to aim at, Javi Garcia is across to clear. Milner attempts to start an attack for his side down the other end, but his pass towards Tevez is poor and QPR are able to regain control of the ball once more.
A reminder that victory for City this evening would move them to within two points of Manchester United at the top of the table. Meanwhile, three points for QPR would move them to within two points of safety. A half-chance emerges for City as Tevez drives down the right before finding Milner, but Cesar is on hand to collect.
It's decent work from the home side once more as Derry combines with Granero before the former Real Madrid midfielder looks for the run of Remy, but the Frenchman cannot collect under pressure from Lescott. Tevez wins a free kick down the other end moments later, but Milner's delivery is poor as it fails to beat the first man.
The home side are really defending well at the moment as they force City into giving possession away twice in quick succession. With Derry and Mbia sitting in front of the defence, there is just no room for Silva to operate. However, QPR are really struggling to keep hold of possession as City restart another passing sequence just inside the opposing half.
CHANCE! First real chance of the match for City as Aguero drives into the penalty area before firing a dangerous cross towards Zabaleta, but Hill is on hand to make a fine block at the near post. The resulting corner causes problems once more, but Nelson just beats Lescott to the header. It's all one-way traffic at the moment, but the home supporters continue to make their voices known.
CROSSBAR! The pressure remains on the home side as another corner tests Cesar, but the Brazilian is able to push it over the crossbar. Eventually the danger is thumped clear, but with Remy the only target in attack, the pressure continues. It is relentless pressure from City at the moment. The chance comes as Silva finds Zabaleta in the box, but he thumps his header against the crossbar.
Better from the home side in the last couple of moments with Granero and Derry seeing more of the ball, but once more the pass towards Remy is short of what is expected and City gain control of the tempo. You just get the feeling that Taarabt needs to get more involved in the final third. Little over 21 minutes of the half remaining and the score remains 0-0, despite increasing pressure from City.
Slight opportunity for Remy to advance on the City goal as he collects possession outside the box before driving into the box, but Lescott is across to clear the danger. Taarabt gathers outside the box before combining with Granero, but the former is fouled by Clichy and finally the R's have a slight period of respite. Remy comes close from the resulting free kick, but his effort is deflected wide of the post.
Couple of half-chances for the home side to get the ball into the penalty area as they force a corner of corners, but the first from Granero is poor, while the second is headed clear by Garcia. Zabaleta attempts to force an attack on the break, but Nelson clears. End-to-end period of the match as we approach the 30-minute mark. Still no goals at Loftus Road.
Better from QPR in the last couple of moments with Remy collecting possession before finding Mbia, but once more it breaks down with Granero. He was had a terrible start to this match. QPR have certainly started to offer more in the final third, but they are yet to test Joe Hart in the City deal. Extremely lively encounter in London as City attack with numbers once more.
QPR are working extremely hard at the moment as they continue to hassle and harry the away side out of possession, with the home side responding. Incredible atmosphere inside the stadium at the moment. However, there is no obvious target in the City attack with everything being played in front of an extremely well-drilled Rangers outfit.
City have the ball in the back of the net as Aguero collects a pass from Nasri before finding the back of the net from close range, but the linesman had rightly raised his flag. However, it was fantastic work from Tevez and Nasri in the build-up to that chance. Little over 10 minutes of the half remaining and still City pass and probe, but to no avail.
Again City create good ground as Silva finds Zabaleta down the right, but the Argentine's cross is cleared by Nelsen. City attempt to break down the other end with Taarabt, but once more it comes straight back with Barry finding Milner. It's better from Remy moments later as he collects possession before driving into the box, but he is smothered by Clichy.
QPR continue to defend with numbers as the away side pass and probe with Silva, Aguero and Tevez all involved. In truth, City could have played without a defence in this half. Another half-chance comes to Aguero as he drives into the box before striking an effort from close range, but it is well wide of the goal as Mancini looks on.
CHANCE! Glorious opportunity for the home side as Taarabt collects possession outside the box before striking a powerful effort towards the bottom corner, but Hart comes across to make the save. It was wonderful feet from the Moroccan. That will give them heart in the latter stages of this half.
Little over three minutes of the first period to play and the score remains 0-0. QPR have started to enjoy better possession in the final third, but there is no question that the away side have been the more productive attacking outfit. As expected, City continue to pass and probe in the QPR half as things stand.
Slightly sloppy from the home side as Granero presents the ball to Barry outside the penalty area, the English midfielder strikes a powerful effort, but Cesar is across to make the save. The resulting free kick also causes problems in the box, but Cesar gathers, before Nelsen wins a free kick in his own half.
Another half-chance for City as Nasri strikes an effort from outside the box, but it was always moving wide of the post. Meanwhile, the fourth official indicates that we will play an additional one minute of stoppage time as City continue to utterly dominate possession.
HALF-TIME: QPR 0-0 Manchester City
So there we have it. The referee brings the half to an end with no goals at Loftus Road. City have dominated possession throughout the first period, but have found Cesar in fine form, with his save from Barry a particular highlight. Work to do for both sides in the second half.
Let's take a look at some statistics from the opening half of football. City have dominated the possession with 70%, while they have had six attempts to QPR's one. That said, both teams have hit the target on one occasion. Although City have been the better side, they have not exactly peppered the goal with attempts.
Let's take a quick look at both benches for this evening. The home side have the likes of Bobby Zamora and Jay Bothroyd in their 18-man squad, while Ji-Sung Park is also available. Meanwhile, City will surely call upon Dzeko and possibly Scott Sinclair in the second period.
Let me just bring you the half-time scores of the other Premier League fixtures currently taking place. Newcastle United are 2-0 ahead at Aston Villa, while Stoke City lead Wigan Athletic by a single goal at the Britannia Stadium. The fourth match has brought no goals thus far with Sunderland and Swansea City level at the interval. The second periods will get underway shortly.
Here we go then. Both teams join us on the pitch for the second period. No changes for either side at the interval which is not all that surprising at this stage of proceedings. A reminder that three points for City would move them to within two points of leaders Manchester United. QPR need the win to keep their survival hopes alive. Here we go then. QPR get the second period underway.
City start the second period on the attack with Aguero combining with Tevez outside the penalty area, the latter finds Nasri outside the box, but Nelsen just comes across to clear the danger. Taarabt fires a dangerous cross into the box down the other end moments later, but Lescott clears. High-tempo stuff here.
Decent work from the home side in the last couple of minutes with Derry combining with Granero in midfield. Eventually Fabio drives down the left before delivering a low cross into the penalty area, but Hart comes out to collect. The wind is just affecting the movement of the ball as QPR continue to look for Remy in the final third. The Frenchman could really do with some support here.
It's fantastic work from Taarabt once more as the midfielder picks up possession before driving past the challenge of three defenders, but his final shot is blocked by Lescott and Hart is out to collect. That is really positive work from the Moroccan and it is certainly appreciated by the home supporters. Still no movement on either bench, although Dzeko is going through a rigorous warm-up routine.
It just isn't quite happening for City at the moment as Barry attempts to find the run of Silva behind the home side's defence, but it moves straight out of play for a goal kick. City are not finding their passes with as much ease as they were in the opening period. However, QPR have become scrappy once more in the last few moments.
QPR again quell the danger as Hill is across to clear a Silva cross. The home side attempt to break with Taarabt, but the playmaker is just crowded out at the vital moment. Meanwhile, slight controversy here as Silva kicks out at Derry, luckily the Spaniard the referee did not spot anything.
Half-chance for City as they win a free kick outside the penalty area. The resulting set piece is taken by Silva, but Nelsen beats Garcia to the header. The away come once more with Nasri down the left, but again Hill is across to clear the danger. How good have Nelsen and Hill been thus far? But there is still more than 30 minutes of football to play at Loftus Road.
Granero is awarded a yellow card here as the midfielder pulls back Silva outside the penalty area. Meanwhile, City make their first change of the match as Dzeko replaces Nasri, who has struggled to get into this match. The tall striker has four goals in his last four league games, while he always seems to score against QPR. The resulting free kick is taken by Silva, but it comes to nothing.
QPR attempt to break with Onuoha down the right, but Tevez comes back to make a fine challenge. The tackles are really starting to fly in now with the home side desperate to regain possession. You can almost feel a red card coming in this match. Stunning atmosphere inside Loftus Road as the R's supporters continue to let their voices be known.
Half-chance for the away side as Aguero strikes an effort from outside the box, but it was always moving wide of the target, much to the delight of the home supporters. Mancini looks a nervous man as he rocks on the edge of his seat, but there is still plenty of time for goals in this match. Little over 25 minutes of normal time remaining.
Half-chance for Remy down the other end as the Frenchman picks up possession outside the penalty area before turning Lescott and striking an effort towards the top corner, but it just moved high of the crossbar. Meanwhile, Barry is the latest player to have his name taken. Possibly for something that he said?! First sign of real City frustration.
City continue to play the ball long towards Dzeko, but Hill and Nelsen are really relishing the aerial battle as they continue to clear the danger. It comes back with interest, however, as City continue to pass and probe outside the box. Still no movement on the home side's bench with little over 20 minutes of normal time remaining.
Half-chance once more for the away side as Milner slips a pass towards Dzeko in the penalty area, but the striker just cannot gather and it moves out of play for a goal kick. City continue to push for the opener, but QPR's defence has been fantastic all evening. All they need is that one chance on the counter, but Remy has been patrolled well by Lescott thus far.
Another effort comes from the away side as Silva strikes a powerful effort from outside the box, but it is wonderful hands from Cesar as the Italian goalkeeper collects. The R's attempt to break with Taarabt, but there is simply no out ball for the Moroccan. Is it time for Bobby Zamora to enter the field?
Another long cross causes problems in the City defence, but Hill is on hand to clear for a corner. The resulting set piece is met by Dzeko, but the striker can only head over the crossbar from close range. Little over 15 minutes of football remaining and it appears that City are preparing to bring on Jack Rodwell. Strange one?!
CHANCE! Just about the best chance of the second period as Milner finds Zabaleta in the box, the Argentine finds Aguero, but he can only fire over the crossbar. Meanwhile, City make their second change of the match as Tevez is replaced by Rodwell. Still no movement on the QPR defence.
Penalty shout from the home side as Remy goes down just outside the penalty area, but the referee fails to award the decision. It is difficult to see whether there was any real contact. Milner has an effort down the other end moments later, but his strike is straight at the goalkeeper.
Decent football from the home side once more as Taarabt finds Mbia just outside the penalty area, however, Barry fells the powerful midfielder in his tracks. The resulting free kick is taken by Granero, but the former Real Madrid midfielder fires it over the crossbar. That is awful at this stage of the match.
City continue to put the pressure on the home side as they pass and probe outside the penalty area, but they just cannot find that final pass with Hill on hand to clear once more. It comes straight back, but Fabio is back to usher it out for a goal kick. It has been a wonderful defensive display from the basement club, but there is still plenty of time for goals in this match.
Again a driven cross into the penalty area causes problems in the home side's defence as Clichy searches out Aguero, but it just would not fall for the Argentine in the box. QPR attempt to drive down the other end with Remy and Granero both involved, but they cannot pick their way through the defence. They are not sure whether to stick or twist at the moment.
CHANCE! Wonderful chance for the away side as Dzeko finds Silva in the penalty area, but Cesar gets down low to make a wonderful save from the Spaniard's shot. He has been sensational this evening. QPR attack down the other end and gain a free kick as Zabaleta fells Mbia.
City want a penalty as Silva drives a shot straight at Nelsen, but the referee shakes his head, although the ball did appear to strike the defender's arm. Once more the home side attempt to break with Taarabt, but City have the ball back within seconds. It's all City once more, but stunning defending clears the danger.
Meanwhile, City make another change as Scott Sinclair replaces Milner for the final few moments. What a time it would be for him to make his mark. Remy wins his side a free kick down the left with little over two minutes of normal time remaining. Can the home side hold on here?
Another penalty shout for the away side as Sinclair is felled in the penalty area by Onouha, but the referee says no. Dzeko comes close with a volley moments later, but he fires it wide of the target. No penalty for me, it is a wonderful challenge from the former City defender. Change for the home side as Granero is replaced by Park.
Meanwhile, the fourth official indicates that we will play an additional four minutes of stoppage time. It's stunning work from Taarabt as he evades two challenges before striking an effort on goal, but it just moves wide of the post. That is stunning play from the Moroccan.
The resulting corner causes problems in the City defence as Hill attempts to find Remy with a flick, but the away side break with pace and numbers once more. QPR make a double change with Zamora and Faurlin replacing Remy and Mbia.
Those changes have just taken the sting out of this match, but still the pressure continues as City press and probe outside the box. QPR continue to defend with their lives here. Little over 30 seconds of normal time remaining. It is now or never.
FULL-TIME: QPR 0-0 Manchester City
So there we have it. Incredible evening at Loftus Road as QPR hold the current champions to a 0-0 draw. Cesar was the star of the show the evening as his side continue to improve. Thanks for joining Sports Mole for the action and be sure to join us for more Copa del Rey/Premier League action tomorrow. Until then!