Is there ever a good time to play a top side in the Premier League? You can look at Chelsea's recent form two ways - four wins on the bounce away in the division, but their last two in other competitions have been depressing draws. Reading, meanwhile, are unbeaten in four at the Madejski Stadium and will be looking to make that five on Wednesday night.
Form Guide (all competitions, most recent result first)
Reading: W, W, W, W, L, W
Chelsea: D, D, W, D, W, L
Isn't that pretty reading if you're a Royals fan?! Five wins in the last six - although two of those have been against League One opposition in the FA Cup. Still, the Premier League form has been looking up as well - three wins against West Brom, Newcastle and West Ham with a tough trip to White Hart Lane the only blip in the form column. Reading are unbeaten in four games at the Madejski Stadium - perhaps another good result on Wednesday night and we can start to call it Fortress Madejski again...
Not so good for the Blues though. Two draws in their last two games, away at Swansea in the League Cup (their recent loss is that 2-0 defeat at home in the other leg) and more surprisingly a 2-2 draw away to Brentford. They're unbeaten in eight games away from the Bridge though, so perhaps with less pressure on their shoulders they're more free to play. But after two depressing draws, the onus will be on them to prove their League form hasn't suffered.
Head To Head
The two sides have only met 13 times in the league and just 19 times in all competitions so there's not an awful lot of history to go on here. 4 of those league meetings came between 2006-2008 where Chelsea took the win three times with one draw at Stamford Bridge on Boxing Day 2006.
The Royals made the trip to Stamford Bridge just three days after the season opener at home to Stoke City. Danny Guthrie and Pavel Pogrebnyak put Reading into a 2-1 half time lead before an offside Fernando Torres goal put the Blues ahead, and a late Branislav Ivanovic strike on the counter-attack put gloss on the scoreline.
Brian McDermott named a changed side for the FA Cup tie but it's likely he'll return to the side which overcame Newcastle in the League 11 days ago. 4-5-1 seems to be the play for the first 70 minutes or so, and as such it should be a very similar lineup.
Stephen Kelly put in a solid performance which allowed Jimmy Kebe to maraud forward far more than in recent weeks so their positions on the right flank should be in no doubt. Jobi McAnuff moved into the middle, with Danny Guthrie and Mikele Leigertwood playing further back, to the disappointment of an unlucky Jem Karacan. We could see McAnuff go back to the left wing and Karacan or even Hope Akpan come into the midfield but McDermott is unlikely to change a winning side. And for all Adam Le Fondre's substitute heroics, he's unlikely to get a start behind Pavel Pogrebnyak who equally seems to have found form recently.
If we make any signings in the next 24 hours, they might make the bench of course...
Chelsea will be without the highly influential Eden Hazard, who won a penalty in the reverse fixture in August. If you haven't heard the reason, I'll allow the Reading fans to tell you why tomorrow night... Petr Cech is still a doubt which would be good news for the Royals, as his deputy Ross Turnbull looked extremely vulnerable on Sunday at Griffin Park. And he of the incredible hairstyle, David Luiz, is also questionable to feature.
Demba Ba could make his second Madejski Stadium appearance of the season if picked up front - his arm helped Newcastle secure a point earlier in the campaign.
Reading (4-5-1): Federici; Kelly, Pearce, Mariappa, Harte; Kebe, Leigertwood, McAnuff, Guthrie, McCleary; Pogrebnyak
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Turnbull; Azpilicueta, Cahill, Terry, Cole; Lampard, Ramires; Oscar, Mata, Bertrand; Ba
Mark Halsey is the man in the middle for Wednesday night's fixture. He was in charge for our match at home to Manchester United, which saw seven first-half goals and none in the second. He's shown three red cards this season, all of them straight reds and two of them in feisty matches (Millwall-Leeds and Liverpool-Man Utd).
The Tilehurst End Prediction
There's no mistaking that this is going to be a very tough match indeed. Chelsea have been very good away from home, but then Reading have found some form at home in Berkshire. I'm hopeful that after two recent poor results, the Blues' confidence will be knocked, and so the Royals have a real chance to nick a point. We've seen tonight that QPR held Man City to a goalless draw, but whilst I expect there to be goals, I think both teams will share them, especially if Cech is unfit for the match. Reading could have snuck away from Stamford Bridge with a 2-2 draw in August had Fernando Torres been flagged offside, and as "these things work themselves out", I'm going for another 2-2 draw on Wednesday night.