Four goals and four different names on the scoresheet for Chelsea as they swept aside Championship side Brentford in the fourth round of the FA Cup at Stamford Bridge
It was comfortable day at the office for John Terry & co. against lowly Brentford. Antonio Conte fielded a largely second-string side comprising of a lot of youth players and the Italian wasn’t left disappointed, as they smashed an easy 4 past the Bees.
It was almost a perfect balance of experience and youth, with the likes of Chalobah, Ake and Loftus-Cheek sharing the pitch with John Terry, Fabregas and Ivanovic. Willian drew first blood for the hosts in the 14th minute, with a superb curling free-kick into the top corner.
Brentford never looked like the stood a chance throughout, and it wasn’t long before Batshuayi set up Pedro for their second goal in the space of 7 minutes. Ivanovic got on the scoresheet in the 69th minute and to finish things off, Batshuayi finished off the penalty in style in the 81st minute.
It was a display of pure dominance and showed that Chelsea did have a significant amount of quality within their ranks to rely on, should the need for it arise. While there is still room for improvement, there were more positives to take away from this tie, than negatives.
One of the players Stamford Bridge was closely keeping an eye on was Nathan Ake. The young Dutchman was recalled from his loan spell at Bournemouth earlier this month, after doing enough to impress Antonio Conte and the 21-year-old put in a fine shift against Brentford.
The highly versatile defender showed a lot of promise in his game and played the full 90 minutes of the match at left wing back, a position for which Marcos Alonso had virtually no competition, prior to Ake’s return. Ake did a fine job and seemed comfortable keeping the Brentford attack quiet.
Ake, who can also play in the center of defence or as a defensive midfielder, never looked out of place as a part of this new formation. His strength, range of passing and technical ability were all on display as he put in mature shift in his first Chelsea match since 2015, completely justifying Antonio Conte’s decision to bring him back.
The arrival of Nathan Ake and the return of Kurt Zouma means that there is more competition for places in Chelsea’s defence and one player who has played far lesser than he would want to is Branislav Ivanovic. He has not started a league game for Conte since their 3-0 loss against Arsenal.
The 32-year-old has constantly been linked with a move away from London in the past few weeks due to lack of game time. The big Serbian has been unable to force his way into Conte’s 3-4-3 formation and a move away at this stage of his career seems like the best possible option for him.
If this was to be his final game in a Blues’ shirt, it was a great audition for any of his possible suitors. It was a vintage performance from the Serb – strong, solid and assured. He even managed to get on the score sheet with, with a superb finish in the 69th minute after being set up by Pedro.
With only a day left in the transfer window, it is yet to be seen what Conte chooses to do with the former Lokomotiv Moscow man. While his experience and leadership would be invaluable to the dressing room, spending this much time on the bench isn’t something Ivanovic would be willing to accept at this this stage of his career.
No Eden, Still Hazardous
Pedro, Willian and Fabregas were all in superb form on the night. Pedro got his 8th goal and his 8th assist of the season, already equalling last season’s tally in terms of goals, while having long surpassed his total haul of assists from last term.
Willian’s superb freekick was his 7th goal of the season and his second in as many FA cup appearances. It is a stat that could be higher, had he not missed out on a few games due to personal tragedy this term. He is now only 4 short of last season’s haul of 11, which he accumulated in nearly 50 appearances.
Cesc Fabregas, who has started far lesser games any both Pedro or Willian this term has slowly forced his way into Conte’s plans this season and has showed exactly he is as important as Matic in Chelsea’s midfield, albeit for different reasons.
The 29-year-old was adjudged to be Chelsea’s man of the match on the night, despite not getting a goal or assist. He completely ran the show in the middle of the park with ease. He pulled all the strings, made the important passes, set of Chelsea’s attack and controlled the tempo of the game.
It is a huge surprise that a player of his quality doesn’t start more often, but it is understandable given Conte’s need for defensive stability.
However, all three were on song in the absence of Eden Hazard, arguably the best player in this Chelsea team right now. There is no substitute for the Belgian’s talent, but if this display was anything to go by, then this trio, in this kind of form can easily make up for Hazard’s absence if the need for it ever arose.
Batshuayi: Building Confidence
He isn’t going to replace Diego Costa for any of Chelsea’s big games when the Spaniard is fit anytime soon, but the his slow and steady progress is evident with each passing game. Batshuayi racked up his second goal in his second FA Cup start and also set up Pedro for his goal.
Batshuayi has made 20 appearances so far this season, out of which he has started only 5 games in all competitions. In those 5 starts this term, out of which none have come in the Premier League he has managed 4 goals and 2 assists.
While he hasn’t been able to do enough in Conte’s eyes to break into the Chelsea first XI even when Costa is out suspended or injured, this would do a world of good for his confidence in what has been a difficult campaign for him so far, and is a small but significant step in forcing himself in Conte’s plans.
Zouma, Batshuayi, Ake, Chalobah, Loftus-Cheek are all youngsters who are now established parts of Chelsea’s second string side. Cesc Fabregas, John Terry, Asmir Begovic and Branislav Ivanovic (however temporary) make up the rest of this side.
Needless to say, Conte is spoilt for choice in almost every area of the pitch. Beating a team 4-0 is no mean feat when you field a side comprising of mostly youth players and those who have barely started this season, even if it is was just Brentford.
It will be interesting to see if Conte still adopts the same policy in the next round, should they face Premier League opposition after their displays against Peterborough and the Bees, have proved they are definitely deserving of the opportunity.