D'OH! - Mike Hewitt
Third from the top vs. third from the bottom. Should be straightforward. Then again, Chelsea almost lost to Brentford, sooo...
When these two sides met earlier this season, it was a happier time. Even though it was a Wednesday. Riding high on the wings of Big Eared euphorics, football was still new and fun and good. And after Chelsea's slightly bizarre 4-2 victory, the Blues found themselves at the top of the Premier League for the first time in two years.
I'm not going to recount all the events of the depressing downward spiral since that happy August day, but let's just say that we've firmly become ensconced in the slow, grey slog through our slow, grey winter lives. And so, even though Reading has been firmly planted in the bottom three since November - losing seven in a row at one point - nothing should be taken for granted.
Date/Time: Wednesday, January 30, 20:00 GMT; 3:00 P.M. EST; Thursday, Jan 31, 1:30 A.M. IST
Venue: Madejski Stadium, Reading
TV Information: none (UK); Fox Soccer Plus (USA); ESPN HD (India)
Lamin has already done an excellent job previewing Reading, so be sure to read that. You might learn a thing or two about stuff like art or something called a Jimmy Kebe (not to be confused by ex-Chelsea trainee Kaby).
Reading tend to score a decent amount of goals, especially for a side on the wrong side of the relegating line of doom. The Amur tiger called Pavel Pogrebnyak has already big-boy'd Gary Cahill once this season and as we saw when we looked at game-changing goals in the Premier League this season, Adam Le Fondre has the uncanny ability to surpass even Chicharito levels of annoying. They have not been shut out since playing Manchester City and Swansea City back-to-back towards the end of December, scoring 14 in the seven matches in all competitions since.
Fortunately for Chelsea - and whoever will get to deputize for Petr Cech and his injured calf; Hilario anyone? - Reading have married their decent offense with just about the worst defense (43 goals allowed) in the Premier League. At the start of today, only Aston Villa had conceded more (44).
Adding their names next to Cech's on Chelsea's list of absentees are: John Obi Mikel & Victor Moses (both staying in Africa a bit longer as Nigeria have secured a spot in the first knockout round), Oriol Romeu, Eden Hazard, and David Luiz. Despite this growing list and a propensity for insipidness, Chelsea are certainly still expected to win this one.
(And should they win - and I'm trying to keep this on the down low - they would only be four points behind Manchester City for second place. Hope springs?)