LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 28: Anton Ferdinand of Queens Park Rangers acknowledges the fans after the FA Cup with Budweiser Fourth Round match between Queens Park Rangers and Chelsea at Loftus Road on January 28, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
The nice thing about fixture congestion is that when you only have two days between a disaster like Sunday and the next game, you have the opportunity to minimize the hangover effect. In general I think professional athletes are pretty resilient and the impact of past performances is minimal, but that's not the way fans experience it. I want the next result to think about and I want it now, because unless QPR manage to lay down a 5-0 whipping it can't possibly be as painful as the way Villa knocked themselves out of the FA Cup against Arsenal.
Villa have a bit of momentum going in the league; after a nightmare stretch that ran from mid-October to early December, Villa have put growing fears of yet another relegation scrap behind them and now look pretty firmly poised to finish mid-table. Not especially thrilling, but at least a bit less nerve-wracking than last season which I personally would consider to be a plus. Still, it would be nice to finish as a high-mid-table team than a low-mid-table team and QPR is the kind of competition Villa need to beat out in order to make that happen. That might sound silly seeing as how they're currently five spots and seven point below Villa, but QPR has been significantly better under Mark Hughes and probably did more to improve over the past few days than any team in the league. Heidar Helguson has been solid, but when the second leading scorer on your team is Luke Young then you've definitely got a need for more attacking talent. So what did Hughes do? Went out and got Djibril Cisse and is, at the moment, reportedly very close to landing Fulham striker Bobby Zamora. That's in addition to the loan signing of Federico Macheda earlier this month. It's not just strikers, either; QPR has also landed promising young midfielder Samba Diakite from Nancy, former Marseille left back Taye Taiwo and secured some depth in defense with the signing of Nedum Onuoha from Manchester City.
The good news for Villa in all this: none of QPR's last-minute additions seem likely to have much of an impact on this game. They've made themselves better, but that won't be as apparent tomorrow as it will in two weeks. And at home, Villa still look like the favorites in this game. And three points would actually be pretty damned helpful at the moment; Stoke looks unlikely to take anything form Old Trafford at the moment, and if the other results break right a win could put Villa into the top half of the table. It would also be a treat to get some measure of revenge for the incredibly annoying 1-1 draw at Loftus Road in September.
Oddly, I feel pretty confident going into this game. That's probably because I wasn't a witness to the disastrous seven minutes that saw Villa bounced from the FA Cup, but in the first half I thought they played really, really well. I was quite encouraged. From the sound of things, they weren't terrible for the majority of the second half either. The Wolves game was tight and nerve-wracking, but you'd be hard pressed to make the case that the attack wasn't clicking pretty well. Realistically, you'd have to go back to New Years Day to find the last time Villa looked actively poor in every phase, and prior to that it would have been the 2-0 loss to Liverpool. The past two months have featured many more solid performances than bad ones. Contrast that with QPR; they've gotten a bit of a bump from Mark Hughes, but they've still been just a tick above mediocre since he's been in charge. They've done well this window and should have a strong finish, but the QPR Villa are likely to face tomorrow is a lot worse than the QPR they'd have to face were they to play a month from now.
The key, as it almost always is with Villa these days, is in the defense; this isn't a back line full of consistently terrible players, but it is a back line prone to moments of unparalleled derp-ness. When they've managed to avoid tripping over their own feet (both literally and figuratively) they've done incredibly well. When they haven't, well, you know. You've seen it. I feel comfortable thinking Villa can get a few goals against QPR. The wild card is whether the defenders can remember the things they learned about being defender when they were six years old for long enough to ensure those goals are enough.