Chelsea are fresh off an acrimonious League Cup exit, which included Eden Hazard's sending-off for violent conduct after kicking a Swansea ball boy who was wasting time. The Blues also barely scraped out a replay against League One side Brentford, with Fernando Torres rescuing the result.
Reading, on the other hand, easily dispatched third-tier Sheffield United with a 4-0 FA Cup win and have won two Premier League games in a row, but still sit in the relegation zone.
With that in mind, here is a breakdown of this intriguing Premier League matchup.
Where: Madejski Stadium, Reading
When: Wednesday, Jan. 30, 3 p.m. ET
Broadcast: FOX Soccer Plus
How to Watch: FOX Soccer 2Go
What's at Stake?
For hosts Reading, this match provides a chance for them to escape the relegation zone. Just one point behind 17th-placed Aston Villa, the Royals (minus-15) boast a far better goal differential than Villa (minus-25) and as such, can jump out of the scrap heap by picking up a better result than their drop rivals.
It also gives them a chance to prove they can hang in the top flight. They've put on good shows against the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal, including the disappointingly thrilling 7-5 League Cup defeat to the latter but until recently have failed to string together positive results.
Chelsea, meanwhile, are locked into the third spot in the table for at least another week, sitting four above Tottenham but six behind Manchester City. Because of this, this match will be more about establishing some positive momentum.
They defeated Arsenal 2-1 in their most recent league clash, but a string of negative results in the League Cup and FA Cup have left a sour taste in the mouths of Blues fans.
What They're Saying
After their simple win in the FA Cup this weekend, Reading manager Brian McDermott is, shockingly, in a positive mood. He recently told the Daily Mail that his footballing philosophy "has always been to entertain, we did that against Arsenal and were beaten 7-5. …We are tougher to play against."
Given that result, Reading ought to come into this match with a lot of confidence. Indeed, Reading held the lead at Stamford Bridge before falling, 4-2, in the first matchup between these two back in August. Clearly, McDermott knows they can kick it with the big boys.
Chelsea manager Rafa Benítez, on the other hand, was less optimistic about his club's state. After the embarrassing 2-2 draw at Brentford, Benítez stated (via The Sun) that his team "didn’t do what we had talked about and made too many mistakes."
Chelsea fans have continued to voice their displeasure with the interim manager's performances, and could find themselves with more fuel for their pro-Roberto di Matteo cause with a negative result here.
Reading Player to Watch: Adam Le Fondre
While Pavel Pogrebnyak has a bit more name recognition and more Premier League starts as well, Adam Le Fondre has been the main man for Reading's offense this season.
The Englishman has eight league goals to his name so far, with another two in the FA Cup. He's notched three of those Premiership goals over the last two games and scored in the losses to Manchester United and Arsenal.
He has plenty of talent around him to aid him in his efforts, with Hal Robson-Kanu returning from injury as a midfield weapon, and the likes of Pogrebnyak and Noel Hunt chipping in with more goals. But expect Le Fondre to be the focus of Chelsea's defensive efforts.
Chelsea Player to Watch: Demba Ba
Why Demba Ba and not Fernando Torres? Because, Ba is not Torres. Sure, Torres scored the goal to rescue the cause against Brentford. But that one goal doesn't change much.
Ba has made a sizable impact upon his arrival in London, with his first match bringing a double againstSouthampton in the FA Cup. His three goals over the last month are far superior to Torres' four over the last three-plus months.
The Senegal international is a force to be reckoned with and deserves to get a starting nod over the struggling Spaniard. If that's the case, expect Chelsea's attacking force to be a bit more efficient.
A lot of this match comes down to mindset. Will Chelsea be negatively affected by their poor run of form and the developing Hazard saga? Will Reading be spurred on by their great FA Cup result and good showings against top clubs?
Personnel-wise, Chelsea look to have a strong upper hand in this, even without their Belgian starlet. The likes of Juan Mata, Oscar and Frank Lampard can easily be considered a notch above Robson-Kanu, Jobi McAnuff and Mikele Leigertwood.
But personnel doesn't always win matches, and in a tricky road encounter like this one, expect Chelsea to struggle a bit. Reading are fighting for their Premier League lives and will be motivated to get what they need to survive.
Reading 2-2 Chelsea.
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