It’s a short trip down the Great West Road for our match this weekend. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton preview a fresh fixture in the calendar…
The Premier League is back on the bill this weekend featuring an old-fashioned Western shootout between champions of Europe Chelsea and summer arrivals Brentford. As a top-flight fixture it has had a 74-year break, but across all competitions the Blues are unbeaten in six against the Bees (five wins, one draw) stretching back to February 1939.
The past two, in the FA Cup in 2013 and 2017, both went the way of the Blues by four goals to nil. The Bees did, though, hold Rafael Benitez’s men to a 2-2 draw at Griffin Park to force a replay in that 2013 tie. Saturday will be Chelsea’s premiere evening at their new stadium.
Thomas Tuchel’s team finished the last round of matches as league leaders. This has been Chelsea’s 11th best start to a Premier League campaign and the early show of promise was last bettered under Maurizio Sarri in 2018.
Saturday’s hosts have rightly been praised for the way they have sailed through the first part of their maiden voyage, yet up to now their only victory on home soil came on the opening day against an ailing Arsenal.
Tuchel’s men are unbeaten in each of the past nine home and away matches across all competitions in this 5.30pm broadcast slot. The Blues and the Bees each have a 100 per cent record in three all-capital confrontations so far, so something will have to give in this first west London derby between the two sides in the league since 1947.
Chelsea team news
The Blues are unbeaten on the road in the Premier League this season and, indeed, in 11 of the past 12 matches. High intensity starts have helped. Chelsea are the best team in the league in the opening 45 minutes, but only fifth after half-time, despite a record of eight goals for and two against. The champions of Europe are one of six yet to concede in the second half on the road, while the Bees have conceded three times after the break on their own soil.
Thomas Tuchel’s team boast the best shot-conversion rate in the top flight this season of 15.3 per cent, as well as the biggest disparity (+3.2) between goals scored (15), and those expected (11.8). At the other end, meanwhile, Edou Mendy and his defence have recorded the best difference between expected goals against (8.6) and the number actually conceded – three, the joint-best in the top tier.
In recent games, a boldness to break between the lines and through the middle has made the difference and morale should be high. Players such as Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Ross Barkley stepping up can make or break a season and after their strong performances a fortnight ago, they know the coach has them in his plans. Similarly, the mobbing of Ben Chilwell after his important first goal of the season showed the unity and support in this group.
On Saturday the Blues will be without the experienced Thiago Silva, whose match for Brazil in Uruguay did not finish until 3.30am Friday UK time. Providing Toni Rudiger is available the resources at centre-back are there to cope. N’Golo Kante and Reece James were restored to readiness in midweek.
Romelu Lukaku returned to Cobham rather than play in Belgium’s third/fourth place Nations League match on Sunday due to ‘muscle fatigue’ but seems likely to play on Saturday as he has trained since. The last time our leading scorer was unavailable was on the opening day against Palace, and Timo Werner played at the apex of a three flanked by Christian Pulisic and Mason Mount and we won 3-0.
The Germany forward’s confidence will be high after notching four goals in five games for club and country. Kai Havertz, also on target for Die Mannschaft during the internationals, has played alongside Lukaku and might lay claim to a role, while Callum Hudson-Odoi set up a couple of good chances from the left against Southampton before the break and Ballon d’Or nominee Mount looked back on form.
Cesar Azpiliceuta’s cross for Werner’s lead-restoring strike against the south coast side was the 13th uninterrupted Chelsea touch in a move started by his own throw-in. Werner’s earlier effort from Hudson-Odoi’s astute cross was his 16th disallowed goal, and third following a VAR intervention from Stockley Park.
So far this season 12 different Blues players have found the net (13 in all competitions), the second most for any Premier League club after the first seven games of a campaign. Defenders have set up or scored 14 of our 18 goals.
With 12 points gathered from a possible 21, seventh-placed Brentford have recorded the fourth best start by a promoted team in Premier League history. They have already beaten neighbours Arsenal and West Ham and, like derby kings Chelsea, are unbeaten so far in capital clashes.
Chelsea’s excellent defensive record will face one of its toughest examinations so far as Thomas Frank’s physically imposing team put bodies in the box, runners behind, and play with high intensity, scoring twice or more in each of their past three league outings.
The Dane has dubbed high-scoring Ivan Toney and Bryan Mbeumo his ‘Dynamic Duo’, while Yoane Wissa has weighed in with five in five across all competitions. Only two players have been penalised for more infringements than Toney, but he is third most-fouled too.
Frank rarely changes his personnel changes or formation, though they can play differently according to context, pressing some teams high, sitting off others and using a low block.
They are among the teams who play the most short passes but successfully adapted against Arsenal and Liverpool by playing a longer, kick-and-collect game. The Bees have the lowest long-pass completion rate (46 per cent) in the top flight and have offered the third-fewest shots from open play.
One of their directors of football, Phil Giles, has already said Brentford this weekend ‘need to attack much more quickly … you have got to go bang, bang, bang and be away’.
After they shocked the Gunners in the opening match, Frank joked about ‘little Brentford, a bumblebee not designed to fly,’ but his side are strong in the air. They have scored 50 per cent of their 10 top-flight goals from set-plays (including penalties), going in team-handed and ring-fencing the box at corners and free-kicks. The idea is to recycle any cleared ball – more goals come from second phase action than directly from a set-play in the Premier League.
The depth of the Bees’ squad might be tested on Saturday evening with doubts over centre-back Kristofer Ajer and central midfielders Vitaly Janelt and Shandon Baptiste.
Breaking new grounds
Chelsea’s maiden flight to the Bees’ new hive makes the 17,250-capacity Brentford Community Stadium the 220th opposition ground we have visited in our history. The Blues have a fine record in first visits to the stadiums of current top-flight clubs, winning six of the previous seven and conceding only twice.
Transport issues in Brentford
Unfortunately, there will be severe disruption to trains and buses around London’s most westerly league football outpost and anyone attending the game should check TfL’s journey planner.
Chelsea face newcomers from the Championship over the next two weekends. The last time all three promoted sides avoided immediate relegation was 2017/18, one of just three occasions that has happened.
Since 1992/93, 44 per cent of promoted clubs have returned to the Championship a year after their elevation. Although the Bees’ early success flies in the face of the statistic, 17 of the 28 teams previously promoted through the play-off system, or 61 per cent, have suffered a first-season fall back to the Championship.
Way out west
Brentford have never played a west London derby in the Premier League, and this is their first in the top flight since Chelsea on 15 March 1947 – a few months before relegation. They returned this summer after 74 years. The Blues’ last defeat to one of our nearest neighbours came at home to QPR in January 2013.
The world in 1947
Life was very different the last time this fixture was a top-flight affair at Griffin Park. Willie Birrell had finally launched his war-delayed Chelsea Juniors scheme as Tudor Rose. The Powell and Pressburger-directed ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ was filling cinemas, singer Anne Shelton was ‘the golden voice of radio’, and Aneurin Bevin’s National Health Service Bill was trundling its way through parliament.
This is the also first time in 74 years Brentford have taken on the team at the top of the league pyramid. Back in January 1947 they beat Wolverhampton 4-1, but a terrible run of 13 defeats in the last 17 played ensued, blowing the Bees’ out of Division One (until their recent return through the play-offs). Among that baker’s dozen was Chelsea’s 2-0 victory earned with goals from Johnny Paton and Alex Machin.
Thirty years earlier Chelsea’s promotion to Division One at the second attempt was masterminded by acting manager William Lewis who, prior to becoming our first club secretary in 1905, had steered Brentford to Southern League promotion.
Tackling bigotry, advancing equality
Events at Wembley this week highlighted the need to address the presence of racism at and around football matches yet again. The next two weekends will see the return of the Premier League’s ‘No Room For Racism’ campaign, reinforcing the game’s abhorrence of prejudice and encouraging supporters to report examples when they see them.
This complements Chelsea’s own work to tackle discrimination in all forms under the ‘No To Hate’ banner, and to create opportunities in football and the media for people from underrepresented backgrounds. Read about the ground-breaking projects here
Matchweek 8 Premier League fixtures
SaturdayWatford v Liverpool 12.30pm (BT Sport)Aston Villa v Wolves 3pmLeicester v Man Utd 3pmMan City v Burnley 3pmNorwich v Brighton 3pmSouthampton v Leeds 3pmBrentford v Chelsea 5.30pm (Sky Sports)
SundayEverton v West Ham 2pm (Sky Sports)Newcastle v Tottenham 4.30pm (Sky Sports)
MondayArsenal v Crystal Palace 8pm (Sky Sports)