It is interesting contrasting Reading with Aston Villa right now. The Royals are one point and one place behind with a game in hand following Tuesday night’s action.
But while Villa seem locked into a downward spiral of discontent, Reading are showing signs of acquiring a genuine upward sense of momentum.
With Chelsea coming to the Madejski Stadium on Wednesday maintaining such a sense will be easier said than done. But in their recent form Brian McDermott’s men can find cause to be optimistic.
For a little while hope seemed like it would remain elusive as Reading lost seven on the trot starting in late November. The last of that run saw them lose heartbreakingly away to Manchester City; Gareth Barry scored the match’s only goal in stoppage time when a valuable point looked on the cards.
Since that game they have won three of their five Premier League outings. Last time out they got the better of Newcastle United, a win that was vital in them keeping touch with the teams immediately outside the relegation zone.
There have been improvements all round in the Reading team, not least in the increasingly apparent collective desire to get out of the bottom three. In recent weeks though, it has been the form of their forwards that has seen them make the most of their all-round improvement.
Pavel Pogrebnyak grabbed three in three league games, including winners against West Ham United and West Bromwich Albion.
In the latter game Adam Le Fondre also scored before adding a brace a week later in that Newcastle win. Another two for him came prior to that in the FA Cup, a competition that has also seen Noel Hunt stake his claim for a starting place with three goals of his own as they have progressed to the fifth round.
Hunt may miss Wednesday’s game through injury. Right now though, they will confident about any of their strikers coming in and getting a goal.
Considering Chelsea’s erratic form, Reading might consider now as good as time as any to play the European champions. Or should they?
Recent cup outings saw the Blues lose their Capital One Cup semifinal and almost get turned over by third-tier Brentford in the FA Cup. In the Premier League however, they are actually performing solidly.
Given the drama and acrimony that seems to perpetually surround Chelsea you might think they were in the bottom half. Instead they remain third and recorded a good win over top-four rivals Arsenal in their last match.
You cannot ignore this Chelsea team is not the force of old that won three titles in six seasons. The nature of that cup draw with Brentford and losses to Queens Park Rangers and West Ham in the last couple of months show that much.
But whether managed by Rafael Benitez or Roberto Di Matteo, there is still so much talent in this team that not Reading or anyone else can take them lightly.
Who Benitez has in mind to face the Royals is not so apparent when he has so many options. Should they play, Frank Lampard and particularly Gary Cahill will be among those desperate to put in a good showing after the poorness of their displays at Griffin Park on Sunday.
Cahill may not even play. Against Brentford, John Terry started his first game since returning from injury. Benitez might consider shuffling his defensive pack once more to accommodate the club captain.
As will likely be the case for the rest of the season, a lot of attention will be on who plays upfront out of Demba Ba and Fernando Torres.
The latter scored a fine goal against Brentford that served to remind of his quality, but the Spaniard is still struggling with issues of consistency. Ba has settled in decently enough at Chelsea since joining earlier this month, if not quite doing enough to make the lone forward position his own. Reading will need to be at their best, whoever they are charged with defending.
Chelsea will feel their superiority will be enough to get them the three points, but they have had plenty of reminders of late that it does not always work out accordingly to such things.
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