x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Chelsea steady the ship against Reading

Chelsea 4 Reading 2: With all the high-priced transfer talent brought in around him, it was Fernando Torres who provided the home support at Stamford Bridge with a smile.

Chelsea's Frank Lampard, left, scores the opening goal for Chelsea, who did not have it as easy as that in the end against Reading.
Chelsea's Frank Lampard, left, scores the opening goal for Chelsea, who did not have it as easy as that in the end against Reading.

Chelsea 4 Reading 2

This was supposed to represent a night when Chelsea's gleaming clutch of creators signalled the dawn of a new era at Stamford Bridge, yet it was left to last season's prize acquisition to save their blushes.

Roman Abramovich, the Blues billionaire owner, has spent lavishly this summer to provide Fernando Torres with the ammunition to finally justify his £50 million (Dh290m) price tag, although Reading appeared set to spoil their early-season party.

There used to be a time when promoted teams came into the Premier League and were routinely rolled over.

That now seems about as fashionable as the haircut Danny Guthrie, the visiting midfielder, sported in west London on Wednesday night.

No doubt buoyed by Southampton's audacity on Sunday in stretching champions Manchester City, Reading made the short trip across the capital to prove Chelsea do not boast the only Russian tycoon with designs on making his mark in the English top-flight.

Anton Zingarevich, son of a St Petersburg-based pulp and paper magnate, may not have splashed out this summer on £64m worth of talent, but Pavel Pogrebnyak, at a relatively paltry £5.5m, could represent the season's shrewdest piece of business.

The striker excelled last year on loan at Fulham and picked up where he left off, drawing Reading level midway through the first half with a sublime glancing header beyond Petr Cech in the home goal.

It stopped the Blues tide that, until that point, seemed set to justify Abramovich's huge outlay.

Eden Hazard, the Chelsea owner's star signing at £32m, began his competitive Chelsea career with five spell-binding minutes at Wigan at the weekend, and it took him only slightly longer - 16 in fact - to lure Chris Gunter into an untidy challenge in the area and set up Frank Lampard's second penalty success in two games. The Belgian heads a new look Chelsea, employed alongside fellow free spirits Juan Mata and Ramires as a three-pronged support to Torres in attack.

Oscar, a £20m addition from Internacional, was named substitute but, when fully fit, provides manager Roberto Di Matteo with the conundrum of how to conjure a tonic that squeezes his new mob of magicians into one, functioning side.

For now, though, the Italian's alchemy will be tested foremost towards the other end of the pitch.

The hosts were carved open when Garath McCleary expertly curled his cross to give Pogrebnyak the equaliser, and the ease at which Jobi McAnuff drew a foul from the flat-footed John Terry, which led to Reading's second, would have caused considerable concern on the Chelsea bench.

Guthrie, one half of his head shaved, worked the resultant free-kick over the Chelsea wall but straight at Petr Cech, only to see the Czech goalkeeper inexplicably spill the ball into the net.

Reading ended the first half as if they were the reigning FA Cup and Champions League holders.

Oscar was introduced in the second half, yet it took one of Chelsea's more robust stars to restore parity.

Gary Cahill's speculative effort from 25 yards should not have troubled Adam Federici but, much like his opening-day error against Stoke, the Reading stopper flapped to gift Chelsea a way back into the game.

Then, with nine minutes remaining, Ashley Cole found space and then Torres in the area for the simplest of tap-ins to all but seal the points. That he seemed offside only added to the feeling Reading were to be robbed of a deserved point.

Branislav Ivanovic finished a counter attack in injury time as Federici was caught upfield for a Reading corner, and Chelsea returned to the league summit for the first time in 21 months. However, if they do not improve their defending, they will not enjoy the view from the top for very long.

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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