Reading vs. Chelsea: 6 Things We Learned
Chelsea went into their EPL tie with Reading after a dire performance against Brentford in the FA Cup saw them add another game to their congested fixture list. As it was, their game against Reading is their 41st of the 2012-13 season so far, and the tiredness is beginning to show.
The Blues dominated possession from the outset but seemed content to pass it amongst themselves for the first 45 minutes, until Juan Mata took matters onto his own feet and scored just before halftime. A lovely through-ball from Fernando Torres released the midfield maestro whose finish was the epitome of calm.
Both sides were failing to create any significant chances, and although things improved after halftime, the visitors always looked more likely to win. They thought they had put the game to bed on 66 minutes when Frank Lampard headed home a brilliantly weighted corner from Mata.
Reading brought on super-sub Adam Le Fondre after just over an hour, and when Mata left the field on 77 minutes, Chelsea lost their incisiveness in attack. They were made to pay when Le Fondre score twice, levelling the score and salvaging a vital point for the relegation candidates.
Here are six things we learned from this 2-2 draw.
Chelsea Are Far Too Reliant on Juan Mata
Juan Mata scored one and made one as he returned to the starting 11 having entered the game against Brentford from the bench. Since signing for Chelsea two years ago, Mata has played nearly 100 times for the club.
After the Champions League success in 2011-12, Mata joined up with the Spain squad for Euro 2012 and scored their fourth goal in the final. He stayed with the international set-up and competed at the London 2012 Olympics, before joining up with Chelsea for preseason.
He is verging on exhaustion but still puts out a top-drawer performance every time he steps on the pitch. Something has to give, though. Whether it turns out to be a gradual slide in quality, or a more dramatic injury, Mata cannot be the only player that Chelsea can turn to when they are in need of a goal.
However,this match illustrated perfectly that the way the team are playing at the moment, it cannot afford to leave him out of the side, despite his high levels of fatigue. After he was substituted on 77 minutes, Chelsea lost their potency and allowed Reading to get a point when the Blues should have had the win wrapped up.
Chelsea Are Too Wasteful in Front of Goal
Chelsea's leaky defence has been a cause for concern since late October, but they have recently added an inability to score to their ever-growing list of woes.
Despite having 64 percent of the possession against Reading, they could only hit the target five times in 14 attempts, and only converted two of those shots into goals. Compare that to Reading's two shots on target from five attempts, and you see the predicament Chelsea are in.
Whether it is due to the managerial turmoil at Stamford Bridge or simply due to a lack of communication and trust amongst the team, everyone is far more ready to take a shot from outside the box than they are to try to find a teammate in a better position.
When Ashley Cole and Ryan Bertrand are shooting for goal rather than looking for their striker, you know that something, somewhere, has gone very wrong.
The AFCON Players Are Sorely Missed
Victor Moses and John Obi Mikel are representing Nigeria at the African Cup of Nations and Chelsea are suffering for it. With Eden Hazard banned for an as yet undetermined number of games and David Luiz injured, Chelsea have lost the midfield depth which served them so well in the early stages of the season.
With Nigeria through to the quarterfinals thanks to two penalties won and scored by Moses, Chelsea will have to wait a little longer until the burden on their suddenly stretched squad is eased. Rafa Benitez will have to be smart in his team selection if he doesn't want to see his hopes for a top-four finish dashed by the time they return.
Benitez Cannot Inspire the Dressing Room
Different managers have different talents. Some are tactically astute but dull and uninspiring. Some are very charismatic but have very limited football knowledge. Some are lucky, some are honest, some have a very real need to visit an optician, and some are downright legendary.
Jose Mourinho's Chelsea side pulled off some extraordinary results despite the odds. If things weren't going well at halftime, you could be certain that they would improve in the second half. If Chelsea were 2-0 up, it was a guaranteed win.
Roberto Di Matteo's Chelsea side went down to 10 men at Camp Nou, conceded two goals and fought back to win 3-2 on aggregate.
Rafa Benitez's Chelsea side have let a two-goal lead slip twice in two weeks, going from being in control of the game to barely clinging on for a point within the final 30 minutes.
It is simply not good enough. The team have shown a shocking lack of concentration and commitment in recent weeks and whilst nobody is blameless, including the fans, Benitez should be able to inspire the talented individuals he has at his disposal to put a full 90-minute shift in.
Fixture Fatigue Is Hitting Chelsea Hard
Since November 17th 2012, Chelsea have played two games every week. Their inability to beat League One side Brentford in the FA Cup has added another game to that list—something that they could really do without.
Managers will tell you that they like playing so frequently, it means that the team is doing well, but when two of the games you have played have been on the other side of the world it is bound to cause problems. This is the business end of the season now, where the resting place of trophies is decided for another year, and Chelsea as a unit are exhausted.
If the squad is not managed properly, there is a very real chance they could fail to qualify for the 2013-14 Champions League, just in time for the introduction of Financial Fair Play.
Chelsea's Vulnerability Stems from Their Success
It is a fact of life that when you become the best, your opposition have an extra motivation to beat you. When QPR beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge earlier in January, they not only gained three vital points and bragging rights over their neighbours, they beat the European champions.
Reading manager Brian McDermott said after the game "I saw a side with Lampard, Mata and world-class players all over the pitch, but we've just got a draw against the champions of Europe" (via chelseafc.com).
Whilst their opponents have extra motivation to beat them, Chelsea seem to have lost all desire to win. Maybe it is a hangover from the giddy heights achieved only eight short months ago, but the Blues will need to find their fighting spirit if they want to salvage any kind of result from this season.