Disillusionment and apathy abound. There is a distinct lack of vision, plan or grand scheme at the club. We are simply going through the motions, and we are no longer doing it in style. This draining feeling of jadedness is, of course, nothing new. We’ve been here before. But when disillusionment has reached critical mass – a breaking point – fortunes usually changed for the better. Sure, back to back victories have papered over the cracks and carefully disguised mafia-like inner workings, but we should be putting four past Wigan at home and dispatching Sparta Prague in the round of 32 of Europe’s Coca-Cola league with relative ease.
And, as a result, it’s becoming increasingly difficult not to side with the Benitez boo boys. He has somehow taken a team full of creative, frisky pups and turned them into sickly old St. Bernards. What’s on display is becoming ever more reminiscent of the sedative football served up when Rafa’s Liverpool met Jose’s Chelsea. To see Benitez make use of Benayoun in whatever creative capacity he might have left as a last throe to unlock the Torres riddle is truly disheartening. Watching our great club emulate a forgone Liverpool side bleeds our soul. Torres is no longer a liability because of his lack of ability, but because of the prioritized focus that has been placed on his success over that of the team’s. Everything has been done to accommodate him. He has cost the club three managers and he repays this faith by evading, rather than attacking, Eden Hazard’s low cross intended for him in Prague. His departure, along with a managerial change, will go a long way in liberating the club and the team’s psyches. Simply, he is malignant, and must be removed.
Perhaps the breaking point will lead to what we all want: the return of Jose Mourinho, who looks undeniably miserable at an unappreciative Santiago Bernabeu. He has admitted that his next job will be in England, and with only three clubs – United, City and Chelsea – really on the cards, this is the best chance of reinstating the only man who has all the answers. Journalist Duncan Castles, who reported widely on the sequence of faltering relations between Mourinho and Abramovich before and after Jose’s departure, recently wrote that the relationship between the two has been reset for some time now. All we can do is remain optimistic. Manuel Pelligrini’s name has also entered the fray, and while he would not be the worst choice, his shelf life would be questionable.
But enough gloom and doom, there is a League One side in need of a rollicking for having the audacity to nearly beat us. The FA Cup is, from time to time, our “break in case of emergency” trophy, and given Chelsea’s domination of this competition in the last decade, nothing but a convincing, large margin of victory would suffice.
Certainly no fucking about as Benitez fielded one of our strongest XI’s to avoid the giant-killing marketing that has defined the FA Cup.
Defensive Quartet: No words can describe the relief when our ghost manager, John Terry, resumes his position in the left of centre of defence. With two more natural centre-backs forming the back line, it’s probably the strongest defensive line we can hope for.
Midfield Duopoly: According to all traditional footballing formulas and tactical literature, having the likes of David Luiz and Frank Lampard in the center of the park should never fail. Lampard has a minder, allowing him to dictate play, but in this case the minder has an attacking instinct, a burst of creativity, and a keen eye of his own. Both are solid physical specimens to shield the defence as well. This is perhaps Benitez’s biggest contribution to the tactical side of things thus far.
Triumvirate: Congratulations to Victor Moses for his immensely key role in helping Nigeria lift the African Cup of Nations for the first time in quite some time. One wonders whether he’s fit, however, as we all saw the terrible error Neil Lennon made by playing his Nigerian centre-back against Juventus shortly after winning the trophy.
Lone Wolf: Adorning the finest Hannibal Lector costume, Demba Ba returns to the Chelsea side, and it’s a bloody relief to have him back. A separate op-ed is required to meticulously pinpoint how much more he brings to this side than Fernando Torres.
On a side note, Didier Drogba set up one goal and scored another to win his new side, Galatasaray, their match in his first start, while Nicolas Anelka still looks a clever signing for Juventus. Which one of you would not take either of the two back in a heartbeat?
Passing and movement in abundance but absolutely no penetration to make good on the build up play. As expected, Brentford remained organized, disciplined and parked the bus, hoping to hit us on the break – which, by all accounts this season, stands as eminently feasible for virtually any team. Our inability to complete a quick sequence of passes or to power through their defence illuminated the fact that this team are in some sort of footballing purgatory. We aren’t the physical masterclass of years prior nor are we consistent in any dynamic quick tempo play. Some absolutely gorgeous interplay between the triumvirate, however, released Oscar, but he was unlucky to hit the bar.
Brentford did manage to conjure a few shots at goal and, were it not for the referee calling play back, they very well could’ve, should’ve been 1-0 up. We were incredibly lucky that advantage was not played. By the 40th minute mark, is it too much to ask to be a goal to the good against a League One side? Not anymore, I suppose.
Not the best of halves.
One would hope that John Terry, who evidently gave a piece of his mind to Benitez following the 3-2 defeat at Newcastle, did the same to his team mates. Given Ashley Cole’s deft crunching tackle in the opening exchanges of the second half, one would imagine the point came across. Apart from a mesmerizing run and an incisive pass by a guileful playmaker, few things are more alluring in this grand old sport than a decisive tackle by a full-back who then proceeds to carry the ball upfield.
We seemed to have an ample amount of set pieces this match, but have we gotten progressively worse at capitalizing on attacking dead balls under Rafa? For a manager whose CV is littered with brilliant examples of complex set piece situations – many of which were used in brutal effect against us – they have not materialized during his short reign here.
On the 53rd minute, it became ever more apparent why a striker in the mold of Demba Ba is so damn crucial to a grueling season. For all our attacking play, for all the interchanging of passes, for all the carnival football we are trying too hard to replicate, a direct, route one ball up the field from Petr Cech found our Senegalese frontman. With his back to goal, he used his bodyweight and height to perfection to draw in the defenders and knock down the ball for our prince to unleash a vicious drive into the bottom corner. Prince Juan Manuel Mata Garcia of Asturia, with 17 goals and 20 assists to his name this season, will forever have a seat at the table in the pantheon of Chelsea greats. It brought back the fondest of memories when Didier would set up Frank in all too similar fashion.
Indeed, no single player can ever replace Frank Lampard. But one has to wonder whether Juan Mata will be, and perhaps already is, Lampard’s spiritual replacement. A player with the fortitude to say enough is enough, grab the hairiest of games by the bollocks and guarantee us safe passage.
I will take a goal from a speculative punt up the field any day of the week if it guarantees a victory.
Despite going a goal up, precedents have been set this season that do not inspire confidence, and I half expected some sort of challenge from Brentford to equalize.
But, thankfully, nothing worthy came to fruition and it was game over for the visitors. Eden Hazard found Branislav Ivanovic’s overlapping run down the right and a low ball into Oscar produced a cheeky back heel flick to make it 2-0. The young Brazilian obviously fancies cup competitions a bit more than the league.
Juan Mata was at it again. Beating his man from the left, he charged into the box to cross for Super Frank, who, as per usual, is on course to completing another striker-esque season. Is there any doubt he could continue this in the same manner as Ryan Giggs? 199 goals for Chelsea. 26 goals in the FA Cup. Strangely, the numbers, albeit grand and somewhat unbelievable, still do not do justice to the player and the man Sir Frank Lampard is. He and his spiritual counterpart are carrying this team.
Perhaps the finest goal of the afternoon was the fourth. We made amends for wasting several set pieces during the match as Oscar’s cross to the back stick from a short corner was nothing short of perfect. John Terry rose like he’s never had a back injury in his life to find a small gap and head into goal. It’s always a good day when the captain scores. He seems to reserve his best for post-media scrutiny and post-injury outings. Given that the Sun had served up rumours of a bust up, he had all the ammunition he needed.
The only real blip on the match was David Luiz’s daft decision to forcefully check a Brentford player when there was absolutely no need to. This might endear him more to some fans, but it is asinine play and until he cuts out these irrational decisions, he will never be the player he is destined to be.
On the whole, it was a good day.
I’ve begun to remind myself that no matter how dark or dreary the season might seem to be, we should always, always be thankful for one thing: we are not Arsenal FC. In fact, just earlier today, Jack Wilshere said, “We need to come together as a team, Chelsea showed great character, we need to do that.” Perhaps we should heed his advice as well going into the final few months of this season.
Up the Chels.
Player Ratings (For All Involved)
First Half – For lacking the burning desire to put the game to bed early on: 6/10.
Second Half – For reacting to whoever lit the fire under their arse: 9/10.
Man of the Match
Spiritually: Juan Mata.
The Guardian, David Hytner: “Brentford were relentlessly game opponents but Chelsea’s class stretched them before breaking the visiting team, Juan Mata’s fizzing, long-range drive shortly after the interval serving as the prompt for a second-half glut. The scoreline was harsh on Brentford, who were left to lament how close they had come to knocking out the European champions at Griffin Park three weeks ago but Chelsea deserved the reward of a fifth-round trip to Middlesbrough. Their Cup defence is alive and kicking.”
The Daily Telegraph, Paul Kelso: “Four goals in 26 second-half minutes saw Chelsea ease into the fifth round of the FA Cup at the expense of Brentford. The holders will now face Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium on February 27 for a place in the sixth round.”
The Independent, Robin Scott-Elliot: “On a fleeting glance this presents a plot simple enough to fill the pages of one of Frank Lampard’s planned children’s novels. It reads something like this: FA Cup holders oust stubborn underdogs on sunny Sunday and, dear readers, I volley home the third goal with a sweet finish before my old pal JT also scores to show all is sweetness and light in the blue corner of west London. Roman Abramovich was even caught smiling.”
The Official Chelsea FC Website: “Chelsea are safely through to the fifth round of the FA Cup after a resounding win against our west London neighbours.”