For us Chelsea fans this game was a pain in the arse, but for the neutral it was a great Minnow-hosting-a-Giant FA Cup encounter, I think. The smaller pitch at Brentford and their dogged style made for a classic FA Cup tie and although I told fellow Rocky Mountain Blues Sam Smith, Jancarlo Boyer and Chris Levesque, who joined me at the British Bulldog for the 5am MST kickoff, that it would never be an easy tie. Brentford more than deserved their replay and the payday they will get from it.
Full credit to them, I say, and here’s why:
1: Brentford fans created the right atmosphere for their players to shine.
2: Every Brentford player knows just how important the FA Cup is to British football and stood up to be counted.
3. Rafa Benitez failed to respect Brentford and Uwe Rosler’s knowledge of the Cup and fielded the wrong side. I’ll go into more detail here:
i. Starting Ross Turnbull and Oscar showed a lack of tactical nous for the determination showed by lower league opposition in a one-off match. Petr Cech needed to start this game for two reasons. Firstly, he has the experience needed to cope with this kind of match, and secondly, with John Terry coming back for his first game after a long layoff, we needed the core backbone to cover for the lack of match fitness and timing he was showing by the end. Juan Mata also needed to start, as he plays much better when he starts and he is in form.
ii. Substitutions were poor. This goes back to Juan Mata. If he had started in place of Oscar it would have given us an impact sub in Oscar to come on for Marin or Ramirez (who I would have started on the right to counter their wing play). This would allow Chelsea to take advantage of a tiring Brentford side and would have given the young Brazilian a chance to see how physical the Bees were making it. Ivanovic coming off for Dave was un-necessary. We all know that our War Criminal can play for 120 minutes; he had done a good job and the Bees’ spirited winger was losing his legs.
Lastly, waiting until the 80th minute to bring on a second striker in Demba Ba when you’re 2-1 down in a cup tie is suicide. We got lucky and we know it.
We did do some things right, though! The back four of Cole, Terry, Cahill and Ivanovic was correct. I think this should be our back four whenever possible – lots of strength and players who understand the FA Cup. This was not the right game for Dave to start.
Starting Bertrand was also correct for the same reason. He’s played FA Cup ties for his loan clubs against similar opposition and knows what it’s all about. He worked hard to get into the right place at the right time and almost pulled out a Wayne Bridge-esque Cup goal, but his effort went painfully wide.
Keeping faith in Torres and playing two strikers instead of making a direct swap put the Bees under pressure. It’s how we should have started this game, but there’s not much we can do about that now. This should also highlight how we need to feed Torres. I say it time and time again that if you put Torres onto a through ball that he doesn’t have time to think about he is world class. His instinct kicks in and you get that kind of goal from him. Massive kudos to Ba for his determination and pass to put Torres in. With any luck Ba, Mata and Torres will start together more often.
We had what I thought were a couple of bad calls in that the penalty against us was a little harsh (from all angles I couldn’t see any contact). Also the claim we had from Mata’s cross was a cast iron penalty. The defender saw the cross was coming and his arm was up. History shows that’s all that matters. That would be given at Old Trafford for Man Utd 100% of the time so it should be called here.
In closing? Look at the other results in this round. Spurs, Villa, Norwich, Liverpool and QPR were all knocked out by minnows (sleeping giants in some cases, but true minnows in others). Premiership managers: underestimate the fight shown by lower league teams at your peril. AVB could be forgiven to an extent as it’s only his second foray into the competition (and the first time with a team that wants to play for him) but Rodgers, Houghton, Lambert and Harry Redknapp should know better. It is reasonable to believe that Harry’s concentrating on trying to keep QPR up and doesn’t want the distraction of the Cup getting in the way of the climb to safety, but ultimately the credit goes to Luton, Millwall, (Dirty, Dirty) Leeds, MK Dons and Oldham for turning up and performing when it counts.
So Brentford have earned their replay, but the match at the Bridge will be very different and I think we’ll win it by three or four. Still, manager Uwe Rosler, the team and Brentford fans can be very proud of their showing today and I applaud them for showing up and making this tie everything that I love about the FA Cup. It’s the best competition in the world for a reason, you know!