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The Champions of Europe dipped into their tub of quality street to get the job done… Beesotted’s Steve Hollidge reflects on Brentford’s final Carabao Cup match of the season.

Overall Performance

As is becoming the norm with the Bees against the big teams this season, we had to be disciplined and organised from the off. And although Chelsea started the game with 3 debutants from their Youth Academy, you couldn’t tell at all other than the sight of some unfamiliar names and the ridiculously high numbers on the backs of their shirts.

The first 10 mins of the game were played in our own half with Chelsea knocking the ball about like it was tied to their boots with string. Constantly looking to probe down the wings, with Kovacic and Alonso especially seeing a lot of the ball on the left-hand side. Sergi Canos was in for a long night trying to keep both of them quiet. More on him later. The Bees ‘sponge’ continued to soak it all up and for the first 44 mins, despite all their possession, Chelsea never managed to break us down to create any clear-cut chances until the very last minute of the half. A regular probing move was finished off with a cross from Azpilicueta on the right which found academy striker Vale (number 68 no less) completely unmarked 8 yards out, but his tame header fell straight into the hands of Fernandez. A few arms and looks circled round the Brentford rearguard much like the header conceded against Watford in the previous game we played.

Yet in-between the 11th min and the Vale header, the bees used their trademark counter-attacking approach to create 3 very good chances to open the scoring, and should they have done it may well have been a different story for the rest of the game. Close range headers for Wissa and Jensen, with Wissa having the easier of the two, both went, like Vale’s did, straight to the keeper. The third chance fell to Rico Henry on the left who collected an over the top through ball from Jensen to advance and shoot inside the box but Kepa got his angles right and body in the way to make the block.

The second half became a different matter altogether. Pulisic and Jorginho (who I’ve now nicknamed ‘Plastic’ and ‘Jogging’ thanks to my android word-predictor) came on for the visitors, notably to add a bit of creativity to the midfield to try and break through the stubborn bee’s road block. It was clear, especially from our own goal kicks, Chelsea also pressed much higher up the pitch and with the added creativity they began to start carving out more chances and shots on goal. 

The defining moment for me was the 65th min. I looked down at the bench and saw Toney and Norgaard getting instructions ready to come on. Here we go I thought, we’re making positive changes, again, to go for it with Toney up front and for Norgaard to break up the new midfield play. But then a further look to the visitor’s bench revealed Mason Mount and Reece James stripping down to take to the field too. For all the joy and praise I have for Tone and Nords, seeing the caliber of the Chelsea boys coming on meant this was going to be a tough one to win. And if that wasn’t enough, Kante is thrown on for good measure on 75 mins. 

So, it was no surprise Kante’s dancing feet set up James to send in a whipped cross for Jansson to unfortunately concede and for Mount to read a quick deflected shot and get his foot ahead of the advancing Hernandez to win the penalty 5 mins later. Duly dispatched with calm and ease by ‘Jogging’. All the subs contributing. Fair play. 

Best Performers

Two names stuck out for me on a day where no obvious and clear one player can claim the honors. Brian Mbeumo impressed me with his work rate and technical ability throughout the game. One moment of sheer quality was his touch and take down on the run from a 60-yard ball from Hernandez. It had me ‘oooing’ with most in the stadium.

Sergi Canos I mentioned earlier was in for a long night and duly was. Tonight was all about defending with little to no forward play or corner taking which was left to Jensen. He spent the majority of his evening running to keep shape and ensure Alonso didn’t get any chance of a sniff on goal or cross. I think Alonso only managed it once in the first half but Sergi made sure he didn’t get far, collecting his almost predictable yellow card in the process. 

A word on the opposition

Despite their squad seemingly stretched and ravaged with Covid, Chelsea are a class act it has to be said. They also had not one but two rather swanking executive coaches parked outside and their badge engraved on every seat. See what you can achieve by winning the champions league hey! Joking aside, their style of playing football sharply on the deck was good to watch. I’ve already mentioned their star players coming on the win them the game which was the difference in the end but I want to highlight their captain Azpilicueta. 

Thinking he was now in his mid-forties (he’s only 32), the man is a machine and a quick one still at that. Mbeumo was almost through on goal in the second half but Cesar matched him for pace and held him off to see the ball back to Kepa. He was still bombing forward right to the last minute too. I’ve heard Barcelona might be interested in him but maybe he’d prefer to stay in the Premier League and see out his days somewhere else in West London? 

Summing up

So, if a couple of headers go in different directions this might have been a different reflective report. But I can’t fault the way we are organised and have the players to spark an attack when the moment arises. I did wonder why Toney wasn’t playing from the start but perhaps there’s other reasons for that. Still, I’m just grateful to have gone to the game in the current climate of covid. The whole atmosphere of an ‘under the lights’ match at Brentford is always special, even back in the old Griffin Park days. Now though our lights provide the pre-match entertainment to boot.  

On our walk back to the car, my brother and I caught up with a guy talking to his mate through headphones. ‘Yeah, we absolutely slaughtered them’ he said with a grin and skip in his step. ‘What game were you watching mate?’ I spoke. He turned and just shrugged his shoulders and caried on his monologue to his mate. Clearly if you’re watching from the opposite side of the stadium things can sometimes look very different. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone, including our friend with the headphones.

Steve Hollidge