After a return from chilly Prague, Chelsea face a much different test on Sunday, welcoming Brentford to Stamford Bridge in the FA Cup Fourth Round Replay. The first meeting between the two sides ended 2-2 after Fernando Torres rescued a late goal to send this tie to a replay. Credit goes to Brentford in the first matchup for putting their more noteworthy foes under pressure and very well could have earned a famous victory.
Meanwhile, the Blues return from their first experience with Thursday night football after an unconvincing 1-0 win away to Sparta Prague. The side will be looking for a much better performance against Brentford before welcoming the Czech’s to Stamford Bridge next week.
My apologies to the readers for not writing about Sparta; if I’m to be honest, I haven’t seen much of the Europa League up until now and didn’t feel knowledgeable enough to make a good breakdown, unless, of course, you want the Football Manager scouting report. Anyway, here’s what I think about Brentford coming into this fixture.
Brentford played without fear in the first meeting, and I fully expect them to do it again at Stamford Bridge.
The biggest change that I’ve noticed in both the cup competitions and in the league in cases when a bigger side meets a smaller one is that the smaller teams have been playing without fear. Whereas you used to get smaller teams coming to play a Chelsea or a Manchester United on the defensive, especially in the league where points matter, now it seems like sides have taken the mind-set that there’s no difference between a 1-0 loss and a 10-0 loss, so you may as well go out and play your game and see what happens.
That’s what Brentford did in the first match. After a 15-minute spell where we were literally bossing possession, they finally found their way into the match and began to take control for the rest of the half. Rather than sitting deep, they pressed very well in midfield, and to their credit, they did so for much of the match.
I think that it’s something that is becoming more and more apparent and why there were so many upsets last round. Teams from the lower divisions aren’t coming with a defensive intent any longer and are looking to impose their style of play against their better-known opponents. Between some Premier League teams focusing more on staying in the Premier League and some lower league sides possessing the ability to play really good football, I think we’ve seen a number of upsets occur.
I now see why Harry Forrester has been drawing attention from Premier League clubs.
The interesting revelation having not seen Brentford play is how many players that had with good skill on the ball, not least of which was Forrester. The biggest thing I noticed in him was his ability to run at a defender, which was increasingly tough as the pitch wore down. The hallmark of a good player is what he can do when presented with a challenge, and I thought he gave Branislav Ivanovic all he could handle down that flank. In fact, he terrorized Ivanovic in most 1 v 1 situations because Ivanovic was getting little help from Marko Marin tracking back ahead of him. It wasn’t until Oscar moved to the right and Juan Mata was introduced that Forrester’s influence waned, though he was still on hand to send home the penalty when needed.
While Brentford’s midfield worked hard to close down the space, the real creative force is Forrester, and he will need to be watched.
Marcello Trotta was an interesting discovery in that first match.
Although his goal did come from a rather large comedy of errors, Trotta did what a good center forward should do, especially when you come up against a side that does possess more quality than yours. He was big, strong, provided an out ball every time for his defence, and allowed his midfield time to rest after pressing.
To me, he was a big part of why Brentford was able to play as they did, because he was able to hold of the likes of John Terry and Gary Cahill in order to be the out ball for his midfield and defence. In addition, he showed good awareness and composure to get his goal, and he was a real threat in the air whenever the ball came into the box. Part of that should fix itself with Petr Cech being fit for this match as opposed to Ross Turnbull, but Trotta can still cause problems.
Chelsea need to use their spare man in midfield better in this match.
One thing that I thought really stood out in the first match was Chelsea did not use their 3 v 2 advantage in midfield to great effect. I thought that Brentford were incredibly aggressive in attempting to close down the midfield, but I also thought that every time they did, spaces opened up because they were a man short in midfield with a striker closing down.
The initial lineup that Benitez put out didn’t really do much to exploit that, but with the introduction of Juan Mata, the side were able to cope a lot better and use that space. However, that becomes the main issue with Chelsea right now. If Hazard and Mata don’t play, the side lack that bit of creativity overall. It will be interesting to see what lineup Benitez decides to play, especially given the fixture with Sparta midweek.
Welcome back from the African Cup of Nations, John Mikel Obi and Victor Moses, and congratulations.
The returning players from the Cup of Nations will be welcomed back with open arms, not least because of Nigeria’s triumph. The big key is that for the first time in a very long time, Chelsea have a full squad available and fit for a match. With those two players absent, it left a gaping hole in the bench that made it very hard for any manager to be able to change tact in the middle of a match. With Mikel and Moses, you introduce a more true partner for either Lampard or Ramires in the midfield in the former, and in the latter, you get a player who gives you pace, power, and the ability to run at a defence, thus giving you the ability to play a bit more direct.
Their return will be much appreciated and should give the team back some of the depth that they’ve been lacking in recent weeks. Let’s hope that it’s enough to finish out the season.