Match report: Brentford 0 Chelsea 2

On a night when Chelsea’s Academy took the plaudits again with three debutants in the starting line-up, it was a more wizened graduate who ultimately unlocked the door and sent the Blues into the League Cup semi-finals after a hard-fought win across west London.

Reece James came off the bench to provide the significant assist 10 minutes from time, the defender’s wicked cross turned into his own net by Pontus Jansson.

Moments later, Christian Pulisic was upended by the Brentford goalkeeper, winning his side a penalty that Jorginho stepped up to convert with his usual composure and confidence.

It came at the end of a contest that lacked many clear-cut chances, though Thomas Tuchel’s side were grateful to a couple of important saves from Kepa Arrizabalaga in the first half, the Spaniard denying Yoane Wissa and Rico Henry at close range.

The second period was more of a watching brief for our number one, with the team’s eventual pressure paying off with two late goals earning a place in the last four. The draw shortly after the full-time paired us with Tottenham, with both legs to take place in early January. Liverpool will take on Arsenal in the other semi-final. 

The selection

There were three Chelsea debutants among the starters as Tuchel made eight changes from our weekend draw at Wolves, with Academy trio Harvey Vale, Xavier Simons and Jude Soonsup-Bell all coming into the side for their first appearances at senior level.

The latter led the line up front supported by Vale and Ross Barkley, while Mateo Kovacic and Saul partnered in central midfield.

Cesar Azpilicueta, Trevoh Chalobah and Marcos Alonso were the trio to keep their places from our stalemate in the Black Country, with senior options on the bench if required.

Kepa on hand

Three nights before Christmas, the Blues and the Bees were playing for the prize of extending involvement in the League Cup into the new year, with a place in the semi-finals up for grabs for one of the west London sides.

Despite Chelsea dominating the early possession and settling quickly with probing attacks, it was Brentford who forced the first save of the night just after the 10-minute mark.

A quick break down the left reaped rewards and the hosts eventually worked the space for a cross to the back post, a reliable tactic for them so far this season. Wissa was the beneficiary but his close-range header at point-blank range was expertly pushed away by Kepa.

Lively down the left

Chelsea chances eventually arrived, with Alonso’s regular rampaging down the left flank providing a useful outlet. The Spaniard delivered invitingly for Barkley from the byline but the stretching midfield man failed to get sufficient power on his header and Bees keeper Alvaro Fernandez was able to readjust to gather.

Azpilicueta then blazed over at the far post following another Alonso delivery, while Barkley had earlier scuffed a good chance wide following neat play involving Kovacic, Vale and Soonsup-Bell, the striker spinning cleverly into the left channel and supplying from the byline.

Chances lack conviction

The Blues were bidding to reach the last four of this competition for the first time in three years. However, though our shot count increased throughout the half, we failed to test Fernandez until right before the break.

Brentford, meanwhile, continued to carry an attacking threat of their own and Kepa was again required to keep out Mathias Jensen’s aerial effort after Henry had hooked in a cross from the left.

Down the other end, the youngsters were not lacking courage as Vale saw a low shot deflect wide before Chalobah reacted smartly to turn an overhead kick goalwards from the resulting corner, Fernandez though was equal to it, as he was when gathering a well-struck drive from Simons moments later.

Right restart

With five substitutions available, Tuchel rolled the dice at half-time and made a double change, introducing Christian Pulisic and Jorginho to bolster the ranks. Soonsup-Bell and Kovacic were the departing duo, the Croatian still being managed with minutes following his return from Covid quarantine.

With the temperature dropping in TW8, the action was heating up on the field and it was the visitors pushing for the breakthrough. Saul’s cross almost ended up in the back of the net via a Brentford defender eight minutes after the restart but Fernandez was smart again to prevent a Pinnock own goal at his near post.

Barkley then got on the end of a low centre from Alonso having snuck the wrong side of his man and his contact was good but lacked the accuracy to break the deadlock.

Turning the screw

With Tuchel concerned about the minutes his senior players are facing over this hectic festive period and in light of so many Covid-enforced absences, the boss waited until the final quarter of the contest was upon us before sending on Mason Mount and James in a bid to find a late winner.

James was immediately involved in the action, firing in a left-sided free-kick with plenty of power but Fernandez again proved equal to the effort and punched the ball clear. Barkley managed to trap the rebound under control and saw a drilled left-footed strike deflect inches beyond the far post.

Blues finally break through

Brentford’s threat had been blunted in the second half, their set-piece opportunities minimised and counter-attacks stopped at source. With reinforcements on the pitch and time running out, Chelsea’s quality and pressure finally told in the final 10 minutes as the Bees were finally swatted aside.

James and N’Golo Kante provided the cutting combination for the opener, with the Frenchman neatly dancing away from two defenders before returning the ball back to the defender on the wing.

As ever, James’s delivery was fizzed in with menace in between the goalkeeper and last line of defence, with Jansson forced to intervene but only able to slice the ball into his own net.

Semi-finals bound

With Brentford’s resistance finally broken, our place in the last four was sealed after 85 minutes when two more substitutes joined forces to great effect. Mount played a neat pass forward to find the run of Pulisic and the American got to the ball first before being taken out by the sliding Fernandez.

Referee Andre Marriner had no choice but to award the visitors a penalty and the ominous sight of Jorginho stepping up saw only one result. Our number five sent Fernandez the wrong way and sent his side deservedly into January’s two-legged semi-finals.

Cue wild celebrations in the restricted away end as our hardy followers were eventually rewarded with two goals, a clean sheet and a Christmas to savour.

What’s next?

The Blues have three Premier League games in eight days on the horizon, starting with a Boxing Day trip to Aston Villa before we host Brighton at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday 29 December.

Chelsea (3-4-3) Kepa, Azpilicueta (c), Chalobah, Sarr; Simons (James 66), Kovacic (Jorginho h/t), Saul, Alonso, Barkley (Kante 76), Soonsup-Bell (Pulisic h/t), Vale (Mount 66)
Unused subs Bettinelli, Rudiger, Hall, Webster
Scorers Jansson (og) 80; Jorginho (pen) 85
Booked Vale 45; Saul 77

Brentford (3-5-2) Fernandez; Sorensen, Jansson (c), Pinnock; Canos, Jensen (Forss 81), Baptiste (Onyeka 74), Janelt (Norgaard 66), Henry (Ghoddos 74); Mbeumo, Wissa (Toney 66)
Unused subs Cox, Thompson, Peart-Harris, Stevens
Booked Janelt 12

Referee Andre Marriner
Crowd 16,577


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