Fernando Torres helped spare Chelsea from an early Premier League setback Wednesday, scoring the decisive goal as the European champions came from behind to beat newcomer Reading4-2.
The unmarked Torres tapped the ball into the net from Ashley Cole’s cross from what appeared to be an offside position in the 81st minute to make it 3-2.
”It was clearly offside which was really disappointing,” said Reading manager Brian McDermott, who protested to the referee’s assistant. ”It’s just a shame he has made a mistake for such a crucial goal.”
But there was no disputing the fourth in the fifth minute of stoppage time. As Reading piled forward in search of an equalizer, Eden Hazard broke free on a counterattack and set up Branislav Ivanovic to score.
Chelsea had led through Frank Lampard’s 18th-minute penalty kick, but Pavel Pogrebnyak’s header and Danny Guthrie’s free kick put Reading into a surprise lead at half time.
Defender Gary Cahill sparked the comeback in the 69th when his long-range strike was fumbled into his own net by Reading goalkeeper Adam Federici.
Torres’ goal made it two wins out of two for Roberto Di Matteo’s side in their first home match since winning the Champions League for the first time. That victory over Bayern Munich – coupled with the FA Cup final win in May – glossed over Chelsea’s sixth-place finish in the Premier League and secured the manager’s job on a full-time basis for Di Matteo.
Freshening up the squad over the offseason has seen Chelsea burst into life at the start of the new campaign.
And it is Hazard at the heart of their newfound vigor, helping to set up two goals on Wednesday just as the former Lille player did in the 2-0 victory at Wigan on Sunday in the opening match of the season.
”He certainly has an impact on our team, and he and Juan Mata linked up very well,” Di Matteo said. ”He’s finding his feet very quickly which is pleasing for us … everyone wants to see a lot of flair players but to win the game you have to have balance.”
In a speedy start, Juan Mata released Hazard, but the Belgium midfielder struck wide, while Raul Ramires’ effort was turned wide by Federici. Torres also did well to work his way into the six-yard box but he was closed down before finding space to shoot.
Hazard won a penalty for the second successive game when he was brought down by Chris Gunter, and Lampard tucked the spot kick into the bottom left of the net.
Chelsea was in control, and looked set to coast to the win.
But against the run of play, Garath McCleary whipped a cross into the penalty area for Pogrebnyak to race onto ahead of Terry and send a low header past Petr Cech in the 25th.
And Cech was beaten again four minutes later, and this time he was at fault. The goalkeeper blocked Guthrie’s free kick with his chest, but allowed the ball to squirm past him into the net.
It gave Reading the confidence to play with more verve and they found the space to trouble a Chelsea side that became increasingly subdued.
The visitors could have been further ahead, but Alex Pearce was unable to connect with Ian Harte’s free kick.
Torres was as wasteful, sending a header way off target from Hazard’s cross before the break.
Di Matteo rang in the changes during the second half with Oscar replacing Ramires and the arrival of Daniel Sturridge in place of John Obi Mikel giving Chelsea more of an attacking impetus.
It paid off, with Cahill equalizing before Torres and Ivanovic struck to ensure Chelsea prevailed in the clash of the Champions League and League Championship winners.