Madejski Stadium, Reading
30th January, 20:00 GMT
Chelsea FC need a moment to catch their collective breath, after an inexplicably pulsating game with lowly Brentford in the FA Cup. Having earned a draw – with that uncharacteristically clinical finish from Fernando Torres – and the chance to play Brentford at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea now travel to face relegation-battling Reading in the Premier League. It’s not without a touch of irony that Chelsea are likely to be ths side happier with the venue, since Reading have been atrocious at home. On the critical goals-conceded-at-home stat, Reading are second only to Wigan. Chelsea’s much publicised woes at Stamford Bridge under the Benitez regime seem to disappear when the Blues travel away from home. The near-loss to Brentford, coupled with Torres’ return to goal-scoring form, should spur the Blues on to a better performance against Brian McDermott’s side.
As Manchester United maintain their imperious lead at the top of the table, Chelsea will be angling for a victory that will bring them within 3 points of second-placed Manchester City. The Royals have humbler goals in mind, needing just a solitary point to keep themselves just about afloat in the murky depths of the table.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Goalkeeper Alex McCarthy’s long-term absence, thanks to a shoulder injury, has clearly taken its toll on the beleagured Royals defense. Also exacting an unfortunate price, from the Royals, has been the absence of their reliable striker Jason Roberts on account of his hip injury. Daniel Carriço, the former Sporting Lisbon star, is unlikely to be declared match-fit in time for the game, leaving Pierce, Mariappa or Morisson with the uneviable task of keeping Chelsea’s big names from getting on the scoresheet.
Reading’s biggest test, however, will be in the middle of the pitch, dealing with the likes of Oscar, Lampard, Ramires and Mata. Key to Reading’s response will be Danny Guthrie, who seems to have buried his hatchet with McDermott, and is rehabilitating himself with club and supporters. Guthrie, incidentally opened his scoring career with Reading against Chelsea FC, with an ominous looking free-kick that Cech fumbled into his own net. Making McCleary’s job just a little bit easier, will be the likelihood of him facing off against Azpilicueta on the right, if John Terry is rested and Ivanovic moves in.
It’s hard to find a position on the field where Reading can compete with Chelsea individually – the Blues squad is worth 330 million, while the Royals come in at a measly 16 million. McDermott will need to line his team up with a view to hitting Chelsea when they’re at their weakest – on the counter, and in the air.
The Blues have the longer injury list, but they also have the enviable cushion of a more talented squad of substitutes to fall back on. David Luiz, out nursing an injury, will not be available to play in Benitez’s preferred position for him. Against the likes of a Roberts-less Reading, Benitez will not risk rushing Petr Cech and Terry back into action although the latter could come on in the second half. Also out of the game, are John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses, both currently on international deputation at the Africa Cup of Nations.
With Ramires certain to feature in the squad, it remains to be seen where he will be deployed most effectively. With Bertrand expected to take the suspended Hazard’s spot, Chelsea could do with the Brazilian’s indefatigable runs on the flanks. In such a formation, Oscar will keep Frank Lampard company in Benitez’s preferred two-pronged defensive-midfield. Ashley Cole will be expected to play a more retreated role, should the inexperienced Bertrand find the going tough.
Fernando Torres – who sparked back to life against Brentford – and Demba Ba are likely to play a greater portion of the game together, if Benitez’s reputation for tinkering is anything to go by. That would probably come at the expense of Bertrand although Juan Mata could do with some rest, even if both Hazard and Moses are unavailable.
- Chelsea have won 4 of their 5 away games, in what is possibly a sign of just how toxic the home atmosphere is for the Blues
- Reading are in a mini-revival with a victorious streak of 4 games.
- Chelsea have won more penalties than any other side, this season, with Eden Hazard being the prime reason
- Chelsea and Reading have clashed only 9 times in history with Chelsea taking the bigger slice of wins, 4 to Reading’s 3, and 2 draws
- Reading have scored only 28 goals this season, but have let in a whopping 43 goals.
Player to Watch Out For
Danny Guthrie (Reading)
Guthrie who spent a portion of his career at Newcastle, is one of the few players in Reading unlikely to show Chelsea far too much respect. With only the likes of Leigertwood, and McAnuff to complement him, the headstrong midfielder has his task cut out for him. Guthrie can cement his return to Reading’s good graces, with a stellar performance against one of the most star-studded midfields in the game. If he doesn’t and proceeds to lose his cool, Reading might just see their first red card this season.
It’s another former Newcastle man who deserves his moment under the sun. Ba may not start the game, if Benitez retains his faith in Torres purely on the basis of the equalizer against Brentford. But it’s almost taken for granted these days, that Ba will exert more of an influence in his ten minutes in the game that Torres did in the preceding 80. Already a fan favorite, Ba’s poaching instincts and his ability to play off of others, will likely deal the killer blow to Reading’s hopes.
Reading 1-3 Chelsea
Chelsea have far too much quality in their ranks to let Reading pose a persistent threat to them. Even if the Blues go down to an early stunner, Benitez can afford to thrown on his best players and wrestle control of the game just enough to win by a comfortable 2 goals.