In the build-up to QPR’s crunch derby trip to Chelsea, Harry Redknapp put the pressure on opposite number Rafael Benitez by suggesting that it would take a “dope” to make a mess of managing the Blues.
Well, judging by events at Stamford Bridge last night, perhaps Benitez has been smoking something in the first few days of the new year.
The Spaniard made five changes to the team that inflicted a first home Premier League defeat on Everton at the weekend and promptly saw his back-up cast fluff their lines spectacularly.
Benitez must have watched on in horror as Chelsea old boy Shaun Wright-Phillips scored the only goal of the game, firing in from the edge of the area after a delightful lay-off from Adel Taarabt.
It was a result which typified the unpredictable nature of the Premier League as rock-bottom QPR, written off as relegation certainties in some quarters, stomped on the form book, ripped it to pieces and then threw the remains out of the window.
The bookies at bwin had the Rs as short as 1/4 to slip through the trap door to the Championship prior to the game, but hastily altered that price to 11/25 after seeing them move to within five points of 17th-placed Southampton.
Redknapp knows that pulling off what would surely be one of the greatest escapes in Premier League history is still a major ask, but with the transfer window now open, QPR should be better equipped for the fight come February 1st.
Chelsea’s limp surrender was all the more surprising considering they were being tentatively talked about as potential challengers to the Manchester duopoly at the top of the table after putting together a run of four straight wins.
The Blues were trimmed to 7/1 for the title after their gutsy victory at Goodison Park but that price has now lengthened to 12/1 as they are 14 points off the pace with a game in hand.
That pace continues to be set by Manchester United, whose typically straightforward 4-0 triumph at Wigan Athletic on New Year’s Day kept them seven points clear of Manchester City, who were 3-0 winners over Stoke City at the Etihad Stadium.
United are now 3/10 (from 9/25) to reclaim the title, while the champions can be backed at 7/2 and third-placed Tottenham, who beat Reading 3-1, are a lengthy 100/1 chance.
The other big losers on Wednesday night were Newcastle United. Already forced to concede defeat in their battle to prevent Demba Ba joining Chelsea, the Magpies’ relegation worries then deepened as they were beaten 2-1 by Everton at St James’ Park.
Alan Pardew’s injury-hit side are now perched an uncomfortable two points above the drop zone after a stunning Leighton Baines free-kick and a Victor Anichebe strike rendered Papiss Cisse’s early opener meaningless and consigned them to a ninth league defeat in 11 games.
Newcastle can be backed at 7/1 to suffer the ignominy of relegation, while the fifth-placed Toffees are 7/2 to claim a top-four finish for the second time under the stewardship of David Moyes.
Liverpool’s comprehensive 3-0 win over Sunderland at Anfield completed the opening round of fixtures in 2013, with Luis Suarez grabbing a brace to move one behind 16-goal Robin van Persie at the top of the Premier League scorer charts.
The Reds are now eighth, seven points adrift of fourth-placed Chelsea, and 7/1 shots for Champions League qualification, with Spurs and Arsenal – who were held to a 1-1 draw by Southampton at St Mary’s – both at 19/20.