With the season drawing to a close, Chelsea find themselves in the particularly unfamiliar situation of being deeply rooted in mid-table – and facing an opposition in Brentford that are five points ahead of them in the league.
The Bees stand on the precipice of finishing a top-flight season in a higher position than their West London rivals for the first time since the 1930s. That would have been a highly unexpected scenario at the start of the 2022/23 campaign, but it serves as a clear indictment of the situation that these two clubs find themselves in currently.
CHE: Arrizabalaga; Fofana, Silva, Chalobah; Azpilicueta, Fernandez, Kovacic, Chilwell; Kante, Gallagher, Sterling
BRE: Raya; Roerslev, Jorgensen, Pinnock, Mee, Henry; Jensen, Onyeka, Janelt; Toney, Wissa
Frank Lampard’s starting XI saw the Englishman favouring his more ‘experienced’ Premier League players, seemingly ignoring the opportunity to give game time to the young prospects that Boehly and Co had focused so much of their attention on acquiring in the most recent transfer window.
This may be one of the last teams that Lampard will pick in management for the foreseeable future, with his interim leadership drawing to a close at the end of the current campaign – and the rumoured arrival of Mauricio Pochettino, seemingly to be announced for the Blues in the coming days.
In typical end of season fashion, with a game featuring two sides that have very little to play for bar bragging rights with victory over their opposition, the pace in play of the game was lacking. The home side resembled a team bereft of confidence and belief, but more alarmingly for a team of Chelsea’s quality, looked clueless tactically.
For all the money they have spent, Chelsea had to resort to the diminutive Raheem Sterling to lead the line against the Brentford back three. Suffice to say, Sterling saw very little of the ball and was not really able to have any significant impact on the game in the opening 45 minutes.
It certainly wasn’t a half of football that would go down in history, but it was one of Chelsea’s legendary players that would have the most poignant impact in the game in the 37th minute. A simple corner routine that was successfully executed by a well-organised Brentford side resulted in Chelsea’s captain Azpilicueta nodding into his own net. Chelsea entered the break behind, enduring a chorus of boos from the supporters as the players headed down the tunnel – though it’s become a rather familiar affair during Lampard’s reign.
In an attempt to wrestle something from the game, two changes were made for Chelsea at the start of the second half, with Aubameyang and Mudryk coming on to replace Gallagher and Azpilicueta respectively. Lampard hoped that they’d add firepower to an attack that’s scored just once in their last five games.
The Ukrainian’s introduction in particular, accompanied with the transition into a 4-2-3-1 formation, did seem to liven the atmosphere and the approach play for the home side – but they were still struggling to have any meaningful attempts at breaking down a resolute Brentford defence.
The Blues did look the side in the ascendency as the second half wore on, but it would be a sucker punch counter-attack that executed to perfection by Brentford that created the second goal of the game. The goal actually came from the Bees’ first shot on target all night, with Bryan Mbeumo running down the right wing before cutting inside and hammering a shot towards goal. His strike took a deflection off Thiago Silva before flying past Kepa Arrizabalaga.
The score line condemned Chelsea to their seventh consecutive winless match under three different managers, and Thomas Frank’s side added another game to their impressive highlight reel in just their second season back in the top flight.
The full time whistle sounded with barely a third of the stadium’s capacity still within the ground, as Brentford were able to beat Chelsea away from home for the second season in a row. Where the next goal – let alone the next point – will come from the Blues is anyone’s guess, with another London derby against Arsenal on the horizon.