Jose Mourinho has challenged his Chelsea stars to surge to the finish line in the Premier League title race as they prepare for a west London derby against QPR on Sunday.
Mourinho’s side hold a seven point lead over second placed Arsenal, with the extra advantage of having a game in hand on the chasing pack, and a victory at Loftus Road this weekend would move them another step closer to being crowned English champions for the first time since 2010.
The Blues need 15 points from their remaining eight matches to guarantee the title will return to Stamford Bridge and Mourinho is keen to get the trophy wrapped up as soon as possible.
But the Portuguese coach is well aware of the potential pit-falls lying in wait for his team, who can expect a hostile reception when they make the trip to local rivals QPR before crucial showdowns with Manchester United and then Arsenal.
“Now it’s just five victories or four victories and two draws,” Mourinho said.
“Any points we do against QPR our situation improves, but we need points.
“Every team with less than 21 points distance to us mathematically is in the race.”
– Frenzied atmosphere –
With struggling QPR, currently third bottom and two points from safety, equally desperate for the points, there is certain to be a frenzied atmosphere for Mourinho’s first ever visit to Loftus Road.
But the Chelsea boss tried to play down suggestions the game will be even more feisty due to the presence of captain John Terry, who will make only his second appearance at Loftus Road since being banned for four matches and fined by the Football Association for racially abusing then QPR defender Anton Ferdinand in October 2011.
Ferdinand’s brother Rio, who plays for QPR, branded Terry an idiot over the affair, but a potentially awkward meeting has been averted by the ex-Manchester United defender’s injury.
Asked if his team were in for a rough ride from QPR’s fans, Mourinho said: “That’s what people tell me. I never played there, I don’t know.
“We go to play, we go to win, the people in the stands can play a role, but they cannot score goals. The referee and the assistant referees are there, so I’m not worried.
“Obviously it’s a very important match for both teams. We know that, we know they want to win. Nobody is expecting an easy match.”
While Mourinho would love to race to the finish line, unconvincing victories over Hull and Stoke in their last two matches suggest Chelsea can’t rely on a sprint finish.
The latest hamstring injury suffered by leading scorer Diego Costa, which will sideline the Spain striker for at least the next three matches, couldn’t have come at a worse time.
And Mourinho admitted he can’t afford to rest Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic against QPR, even though the midfield duo would both miss the United and Arsenal games through suspension if they are booked on Sunday.
Fabregas will play with a mask to protect his broken nose and Mourinho said: “The way we play it’s not easy for our players to be booked.
“But if they have to make a foul for a yellow card, this foul they have to do it.
“This match is a three-point match and we have to play with our maximum power.”
Previously written off as relegation certainties, QPR’s hopes of survival improved significantly over the last week, as a 4-1 win at West Bromwich Albion was followed a 3-3 draw at fellow strugglers Aston Villa on Tuesday.
“We have dragged teams into it now,” QPR defender Clint Hill said.
“It’s about the team who keeps calm. They will prevail and stay in this league.
“The positive is we have four points from difficult trips and we’re right in the battle now so we’re looking forward to the next game.”