Chelsea 4 Brentford 0 . Well played Chelsea. You can only beat what is put up in front of you and what comes next is by no means meant as either criticism, or over exuberant praise, of our hosts on Saturday. But that was atrocious.
An FA Cup scoreline most outsiders would have expected before kick off yet one which, with the players at Dean Smith’s disposal could have been so much closer. More to the point, with the players at Dean Smith’s disposal it should have been one which involved some passion and fight. Instead, he rolled over and had his belly tickled.
Stat of the day going into this one..
The BBC match report has the highlights as does Match of the Day on the I-player, approximately an hour and nine minutes in. If you must do it to yourself, I’d suggest going with the latter option purely for Gaby Logan’s sub-Partridge introduction to the game “Two years ago Chelsea lost out to League One Bradford City in the Fourth round. Today’s opponents also started with ‘B R’ and ended in ‘Ford’ but could Brentford give the Premier League leaders another FA Cup thumping?”
The answer was a categoric “No”.
It is said that games can hinge on a single moment. This one was the exact moment Dean Smith set up his team. Chelsea were never going to be at full strength with matches against Liverpool and Arsenal in the coming week. Even I could see that and my managerial experience has been limited to two games at the helm of the Brentford legends.(P2 W2 D0 L0. Just saying).
The only chance of getting anything out of this was to go for it from the off, get in their faces and then grind it out later on if needs be when Chelsea brought their big guns on.
Instead, we stuck to the five defenders and four midfielders in a system totally devoid of any attacking intent. Tom Field was demoted to the bench. Jota and Josh Clarke sat along side him, with Scott Hogan helping make up the numbers. Wing backs without wings. I’ve seen more flare and width on a kipper tie. Brentford invited Chelsea to come at them and it was a tactical decision that was doomed to fail.
“We will be going all-out to win the game” promised Dean on Thursday. His team and their tactics – a Marinus era display of sitting deep then passing it sideways and backwards rather than forwards – gave the impression that we would be going all out to sneak a turgid draw.
Was this Dean’s game plan, left on the Stamford Bridge steps?
It was total exhibition stuff from Chelsea. Rather than Diego Costa, I was half expecting Antonio Conte to bring on the Harlem Globetrotters in the second half .
The opening forty-five was so abject from Brentford that the biggest cheer from the visiting fans came at half time with the news that Paul Hayes had put Wycombe 2-0 up at Spurs. Along with the likes of Aaron Pierre, Myles Weston and Sam Wood (Marcus Bean and Sam Saunders having to be content with a place on the bench) The Swans giving a perfect lesson in how to take on a below strength team at the business end of the Premier League in their own back yard.
I heard supporters berating Romaine Sawyers and Josh McEachran – claiming the latter had been more interested in his recent ‘golf photos’. Neither had great games, granted, but they were as much a product of the tactical decisions going on around them.
Tom Field was dropped. Why, Dean? Why? Even if he was as tired as you made out, at least start him for an hour then bring on Barbet for the defensive role once we are ahead. Given the line he’d spouted two weeks earlier about trusting his players in regards to ‘not picking’ Scott Hogan (because of course, that was your decision and not at all influenced) then why his sudden reversal? Tom had absolutely nailed that position in the last few months and this was as big a slap in the face as a manager/head coach (whatever) could deliver.
There was no attacking intent on the left. Barbet either too scared, or simply not allowed, to try and take it forward. No width on the right. Josh Clarke and Jota were both overlooked in favour of a 5-4-1 formation in which all 5 sat back and all 4 passed it sideways. And backwards. It was an open invitation for Chelsea to come at us. It was an invitation which required no RVSP and no second chance. It was an invitation which came with a party bag marked ‘goals’. Only Daniel Bentley and the linesman’s flag keeping the first half score respectable.
It was abundantly clear what was going to happen. Invite them on and pay the inevitable price.
Pre kick off. Yet worse was to come. Much worse
Just look at the way the two managers/head coaches (whatever) performed. Smith, cutting a solitary figure standing motionless on the edge of his technical area. He was a man reverting to the same abject characteristics of his ill-fated predecessor, Marinus Dijkhuizen. He was a man displaying all the passion of a waterlogged stats graph and about as much technical ability.
His opposite number Antonio Conte was like a man possessed. A demented conductor, directing an orchestra of understudies. There he was, driving them on with every gesticulation. A man constantly encouraging his team and barking out orders. This, despite them being two up against a side whose sole purpose seemed to be ‘don’t lose’.
As for the Scott Hogan decision, who knows what was going on there? If there was any chance of taking anything out of the game he should have started. Or been dropped. There’s no room or place for wishy-washy nonsense. Whatever point either he or Dean are trying to prove at the moment is not in the best interests of this team.
The opening twenty minutes of the second period showed just what would happen if we decided to cross the half way line. Attacking the Shed end that housed the 6,000 Brentford fans we began the half the way we should have started the first.
And then it fizzled out as Chelsea started to play again.
An impressive arena. A less than impressive performance
Only poor finishing and Dan Bentley had kept the scoreline vaguely respectable in that first period. With Romaine Sawyers (whose role yesterday eludes me) unable to go forward, three static central midfielders passing it amongst themselves and the defence stretched (how can five men get stretched?) the only question was how many Chelsea would get. That it was only two, and eventually four, is a miracle in itself.
“In Matthew we trust” , I wrote earlier this month. Well I stick by that. The problem being his trusted lieutenants. The players are there. The talent is there. The motivation and formation isn’t.
For gosh sake, I could have done a better job at motivating them and setting up yesterday . If that was a team designed to go ‘all-out to win the game’ (Dean’s words, not mine) then perhaps he needs a new dictionary or coaching manual.
We haven’t got a divine right to roll over anybody before us. Likewise, Chelsea are where they are for good reason. Roman’s roubles have allowed them to build a squad that is sweeping all before it in the Premier League. But if our ultimate fate was to lose, at least show a bit of passion. A bit of fight . Make a half-arsed attempt to try and get something out of the game instead of trying to chase it when it was already lost.
The most attacking intent shown by anybody vaguely connected with Brentford was from the paunchy geriatrics in the upper tier at full time, as a crazy punch up ensued amongst some agitated supporters.
Instead, we were left with the aforementioned stat of the day from Standard Sport still holding true. We’ve never had a better chance of putting this one to bed. Instead, there was no kapow from Dean Smith.