Stamford Bridge, London
August 22, 2012; 19:45 GMT
The defending European champions started off their Premiership campaign, away to Wigan on Sunday, in exhilarating fashion, as they raced to a 2 goal lead in the first 6 minutes, with new signing Eden Hazard announcing his arrival in style. The Belgian was on the top of his game as he first set up Branislav Ivanovic by virtue of a mesmerizing turn following by an inch-perfect ball onto the path of the Serbian, before earning a penalty by getting the better of not one but two Wigan defenders.
Had Chelsea continued the game in similar fashion, they would have gone on to not only register a superlative win on the opening day but also make a statement of intent as far their title credentials are concerned. They, however, lowered they intensity, stayed back and allowed Wigan to attack. The Blues created a few more chances in the game, but rest of the game broadly saw the home team trying to score with Chelsea content on securing three points. The fact they had two more Premier League games in the next seven days may have played a role in their taking the pedal off the gas.
Reading, on the other hand, marked their top flight return after four years with a hard-fought draw against Stoke City, with Adam Le Fondre scoring a 90th minute penalty to cancel the calamitous goal they’d conceded because of a mistake from their otherwise reliable custodian Federici.
These are good times for the Royals, having been acquired by Russian millionaire Anton Zingarevich for £25m in November. That time, there was uncertainty whether the club would achieve promotion into the top flight, but after the change in ownership, the Royals won 15 of their last 17 games to win the Championship and return to the Premier League. The deal turned out to be a steal for Zingarevich, as Reading will at least earn thrice the amount in the top flight this season alone. This summer, they have added Pavel Pogrebnyak, Danny Guthrie, Garath McCleary, Chris Gunter and Nicky Shorey to their ranks, to consolidate their presence in the Premiership.
With Reading traveling to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday to take on Chelsea, there are bound to be comparisons between the two Russians, Zingarevich and Abramovich. Manager Brian McDermott will, however, only focus on the daunting task at hand for his team.
Team News & Tactical Brief
Roberto di Matteo has a near full-strength team at his disposal, with the only certain casualty being new signing Marko Marin, who’s expected to be out for two more weeks. Ramires, who unexpectedly missed the opener against Wigan, remains doubtful, while the fitness of Daniel Sturridge is also a slight concern, after the minor injury he’d picked up in the Community Shield.
In the team that the Italian manager set up to take on the Latics, there was only one surprise; that being Ryan Bertrand starting on the left, with Mata and Hazard taking the other two positions behind Torres. Di Matteo likes one of his wide players to be defensively strong and with Bertrand and Cole on the left flank, at least the defensive capability of the left flank was top notch. In addition to being Cole’s deputy and starting at left-back occasionally, the young Englishman will also be sparingly used by the manager as a defensive winger, allowing two out of Mata, Hazard and Oscar to operate interchangeably to devastating effect.
In a 4-2-3-1 formation, Petr Cech will start in goal, with the back-line comprising Ivanovic, Terry, Cahill, and Cole. Luiz hasn’t really performed spectacularly since the pre-season so the manager may be tempted to start Cahill on Wednesday. Anyway, with three quality centre-backs, he has an option to rotate his players. It is expected that the double pivot of Lampard and Mikel will continue, while Bertrand, Hazard, and Oscar are expected to feature behind Torres. Since the beginning of last season, Mata has enjoyed very little breathing space with him being the only source of creativity for Chelsea and then he was also involved with the Spain squad at the Euro, so he’s understandably fatigued, as admitted by the manager. Chelsea can afford to give him a break even now and then because of the new additions in the squad and in the next game, they must do just that.
Playing at home, Chelsea will certainly look to entertain the terraces, at least more than they tried at the DW. Transition from defence to attack has been a problem and it’ll be interesting to observe how Lampard and Mikel, in particular, do in this regard. In the last game, as accurately pointed by Michael Cox, Mata and Hazard channeled their runs through the right, drawing defenders along with them, thus allowing Torres to make his runs from the central-left. This may continue, even if Oscar replaces Mata in the line-up.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Cole; Mikel, Lampard; Bertrand, Hazard, Oscar; Torres
Brian McDermott’s team finished the game against Stoke with no reported injuries and a draw, so the manager should be reasonably satisfied by the result. Jimmy Kebe, however, remains sidelined due to a hamstring injury.
Chris Gunter, Danny Guthrie and Pavel Pogrebnyak were all handed debuts in the first game, so with that out of the way early, they can now focus of performing to their utmost potential in helping their team. Garath McCleary may replace Robson-Kanu, who wasn’t particularly good against Stoke, on the left wing, thereby allowing McAnuff to return to his preferred left-wing position, where he was quite good in the Championship-winning campaign. The rest of the line-up is expected to remain unchanged.
Reading are expected to take the field in a traditional 4-4-2 formation with Le Fondre and Pogrebnyak leading the line. They are good at deploying long-ball tactics, pinging in crosses for their strikers to capitalize on, and taking advantage of any set-piece situation. An individual mistake led to Stoke’s opening goal and they must be careful of not committing any such mistakes against a far superior Chelsea side, as that can end calamitously.
McDermott must have observed how Hazard took the Wigan right central-back and fullback to the sword, so he’d have advised his defenders to watch the ball rather than the player, as if they over commit, the Belgian can leave them for dead with a sudden turn and burst of pace, and to avoid reckless fouls, as the job at hand will become all that more difficult if Reading get a player sent off.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-4-2): Federici; Gunter, Harte, Gorkss, Pearce; Guthrie, Leigertwood, McAnuff, McCleary; Le Fondre, Pogrebnyak
- Chelsea are undefeated in their last 6 matches against Reading in all competitions.
- Reading scored the fewest goals of any team in the top five in the Championship last season, notching just 69
Statistics courtesy BBC Football and Whoscored.
Player (s) To Watch Out For
There’s a good chance that Brazilian midfielder may start in place of Juan Mata, come Wednesday. In addition to his obvious talent in playing in the third band of attack, a glimpse of which was on display in his cameo over the weekend, it’ll be interesting to keep an eye on him to see how frequently he drops deep to either receive the ball or retrieve it. Primarily being a technically gifted passer, he is also seen as the answer to Chelsea’s central midfield concerns or even as Frank Lampard’s long term successor (long shot, presently), both in the double-pivot and as one of the advanced midfielders in the 4-3-3 formation.
Chelsea 4-0 Reading
Although Reading are known for their never-say-die attitude, the sheer quality within Chelsea’s ranks may turn out to be just too overwhelming for the Royals.
Blast From The Past