Chelsea have been poor of late, and they'd head to Reading to face a relegation threatened team in hopes of getting three valuable points. With the rest of the challengers for third and fourth place having far more difficult fixtures, today seemed like a prime opportunity in which to open a bit of a gap and allow ourselves some breathing room.
Rafa Benitez would make two changes from the side that offered up such a lackluster display against Brentford on the weekend, bringing both Cesar Azpilicueta and Juan Mata back into the starting eleven. John Terry and Marko Marin were the pair to make way, with Branislav Ivanovic sliding from the right flank to the center of the defense.
The game started as a typically dull Chelsea affair (of late), with little of note happening in the first 44 minutes. About the most exciting thing for Chelsea fans was the jeering from the Reading fans, who kindly pointed out how unfortunate it is that we're being manged by Rafa Benitez. Chelsea fans could think of nothing better to do than applaud the Reading fans for their efforts, as frankly, they were right to laugh at our misery. Chelsea have made a habit of treating their managers very poorly, and now we're reaping the rewards for years of short leashes and rash decision making.
Just short of the halftime whistle, the first moment of note in this extremely dull affair would finally occur. Fernando Torres would spot the clever run of Juan Mata, and delivered a beautiful little ball that Mata would bury with his first touch. Just like that, we were headed into the break with Chelsea leading 1-0 in a game that had really lulled most fans to sleep.
Chelsea made no changes to start the second half, and little changed as far as excitement on the pitch either. Chelsea continued to dominate possession with Reading simply sitting deep and defending, but the Blues continued to look very sloppy in the final third. They looked to have put the game to bed in the 66th minute when Frank Lampard headed home a corner, goal number 196 of his remarkable Chelsea career.
Now trailing Chelsea by two, Reading decided it was time to press forward. At this point Reading made a change, bringing on Adam le Fondre in an attempt to chase the game. Graham did a little Q&A wit our Reading blog this week, and there was a very interesting bit towards the end of it that I'd like to highlight:
Q: If you'll hold the laughter, is there anyone in the Reading side you're worried about on Wednesday?
A: Adam le Fondre has made a habit of scoring important goals lately, it seems. Chelsea, coincidentally, have made a habit of conceding important goals. This is a recipe for me throwing things on Wednesday.
Sure enough, Reading would begin to look a little bit more threatening. Chelsea would miss out on a pair of golden opportunities to add a third, and in the 87th minute they'd see Reading claw one back. Reading would continue to prod at the Chelsea defense, and with just seconds remaining they'd notch the equalizer. Who scored both goals? Adam le Fondre, naturally. It's a shame that a full time blogger can see the dangers presented by Reading's changes, but our "manager" failed to adapt. As I mentioned earlier, it's probably just karma catching up with us at this point.
Luckily for Chelsea, all of Spurs, Arsenal, and Liverpool dropped points today as well. While Chelsea have missed a glorious chance to open a comfortable gap to fourth and gain some ground on Manchester City, at least they've not really seen their chances of qualifying for next season's Champions League take a major hit in the process. That said, qualifying for the Champions League won't likely mean very much if we continue to employ Rafa Benitez, as we've played so poorly under him that most fans will be crossing their fingers to draw this team for the group stage.
At this point it's becoming increasingly difficult to write these sorts of things. There are obvious issues with the way Chelsea are approaching games, and the way in which they've been adjusting (or not adjusting) to moves made by their opponents. I can remember the days when dropping a two goal lead in the game's final 7-8 minutes against a newly promoted side would be absolutely shocking, but today I'd have honestly been more surprised if we had managed to hanging on to a comfortable 2-0 victory than I was with what transpired. Chelsea are not playing well at all, and they need to make some pretty serious changes to the way they approach games if they want to see better results start to follow. If not, we might find ourselves with a far less congested schedule next season.
I'm sorry about the half-hearted effort here, but if it's good enough for the players and manager, I guess it's about the best that the match report deserves. Hopefully we'll have a much more positive result to be talking about this weekend.