Previous
Chelsea
West Ham United
12:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Burnley
Liverpool
3:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Everton
Stoke City
3:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Manchester United
Newcastle United
3:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Leicester City
Tottenham Hotspur
3:00 PM GMT
Game Details
West Bromwich Albion
Manchester City
3:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Arsenal
Queens Park Rangers
5:30 PM GMT
Game Details
Next

Chelsea remain a work in progress

It was a night when Roman Abramovich got a lot of what he has always wanted: a hugely entertaining game, brilliant attacking football and, most importantly, Chelsea back at the top of the league for the first time in nearly two years.

It wasn't what Roberto Di Matteo will necessarily want. Despite the positives that can be taken from the attacking performance, the points and the position, there were still a few concerns for the Italian on a night of contrasts.

At the very least, the nature of the display against Reading raises questions over whether Chelsea can really be at top of the league come May. Indeed, the fact that it was as far back as November 2010 that the European champions were last so high in the table provides a neat enough bookend.

Because, on the one hand, this game was filled with elements from the Chelsea side that was so unreliable during the intervening period: a drilled Frank Lampard penalty to open the scoring, a Petr Cech error at one end and a Fernando Torres miss at the other.

To their credit, though, it was also a game that was saved by enough elements of the new Chelsea: Eden Hazard's brilliance, dynamic passing interchanges and, at last, a genuine Torres winner in the league - even if it was offside.

And, in terms of that long-term challenge, that is the point. In the opposite way to Wigan on Sunday, this game illustrated the difficulty Di Matteo is still going to have in temporarily marrying old to new in order to eventually evolve. At the DW, the Italian's side were contained. Here, they were somewhat chaotic - in both good and bad senses of the word.

Despite refusing to criticise his defence or even accept that they were occasionally exposed, Di Matteo notably mentioned the need for compromise.

"I always said it's going to be paramount to keep balance in our team. Everyone wants to see attacking football and that's all great but to, win games, you need a balance and that's going to be the challenge."

That's particularly the case since, with so many exhilarating attacking players, the failsafe robust defence that won last season's Champions League is now a lot less acceptable. After such signings, the expectation is different. The difficulty, however, is in the execution.

Take the first half period that so set the stage for the second-half siege. The admirably sleek football that led to Chelsea's opening goal also actually led in Reading's. With Ashley Cole haring up the left side of the pitch in the manner such high-tempo football demands, his defensive collagues suddenly found themselves exposed.

As Gary Cahill was drawn out to cover the left-back, the exceptional Garath McCleary whipped in a superb ball. Impressively, Pavel Pogrebnyak even improved on that. Having bullied John Terry for most of the half, the Russian then beat Cech with a header that was the equal of any long-range strike. Not for the first time, the Russian may well turn out to be one of the signings of the season.

At the least Di Matteo wasn't afraid to fully utilise his own new arrivals. For all that the Italian has attempted to maintain a steady shape to Chelsea in the last few months, he illustrated an admirable willingness to step things up considerably.

First, he played the most attacking line-up possible within his general system when he introduced Oscar for Ramires and had all of his choice playmakers across the attacking midfield band of three. Then, he went for broke by bringing on Daniel Sturridge for Mikel.

It's a long, long time since we've seen such abandon from Chelsea. Essentially, Lampard was the only midfielder. And, with Reading naturally retreating and so many exceptional forwards exchanging passes, the goals inevitably came.

It started with an unlikely source. As space opened up 40 yards from the Reading goal due to the sheer mass of players directly in front of it, Gary Cahill strode forward on 69 and struck powerfully - but not powerfully enough for Adam Federici to escape blame as the ball squirmed under him.

Thirteen minutes later came the turning point. After another typically technical exchange of passes, Cole found himself free on the left. Rather than shooting, he passed for an offside Torres to turn the ball home. It was, of course, hugely unfair on Reading. But, given the nature of the game and the quality of Chelsea's attacking, it wasn't exactly unlikely.

It even less unlikely that, once Federici went forward for a late corner to try and force the equaliser, Chelsea would catch him out.

Appropriately, it was the excellent Hazard who did most to fashion the opportunity. After Torres had done well to win the ball on the edge of the box, he worked it to the Belgian who then bore down on the Reading goal ominously. With bodies in the way, a player less aware of his surroundings might have tried to force in his own strike. Instead, Hazard again picked the perfect option. He squared for Branislav Ivanovic to finish.

It was the defender's second goal in two games. That stat from a defender is as sure a sign of Chelsea's changes as anything.

A lot more are going to be needed if they are to stay so pleasingly high in the table.

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.