Brentford fail to seize chance against weakened Chelsea before ruthless stars prove the difference

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 (REUTERS)
(REUTERS)

A week ago, Thomas Frank called for this Carabao Cup quarter-final, as well as last weekend’s Premier League matches, to be postponed as part of a league-wide circuit breaker.

When he did not get his wish, few were more aggrieved than Thomas Tuchel, whose Chelsea side had a request to postpone their draw at Wolves rejected, in spite of a rampant Covid outbreak.

At one point or another, then, neither manager had been exactly gagging for this fixture to go ahead in the run up to Christmas, but as he looks at his side among the semi-final lineup, with Manchester City and Manchester United having already exited the competition the wrong side of the New Year, it is Tuchel who will be rather glad it did.

The German made eight changes to the already depleted XI that started against Wolves, and in a roundabout way it was his willingness to deprioritise this cup tie that eventually settled it in his side’s favour, the strength of the Blues bench proving the decisive factor in a game that had been ready to swing either way.

Tuchel had six first-team starters among his substitutes and sent on all five of them to play pivotal roles, quick feet from N’Golo Kante teeing up Reece James for the cross which forced the opener, then Mason Mount sliding in behind for Christian Pulisic to win the spot-kick which Jorginho converted to book a semi-final berth.

That the crucial opener skewed in off the unlucky Pontus Jansson, Tuchel would say, was a literal slice of luck that his side just about deserved, having lost further ground in the Premier League title race after being told to play on at Molineux.

There is little sympathy around for the German given the resources at his disposal, nor should there be from Brentford fans, who have seen their own side ravaged by injuries to key players all season, as well as disrupted by Covid even before their recent postponements.

But it was clear that the Chelsea team that started this game was there for the taking, made up largely of returning players lacking sharpness, out of favour squad members short on form and three teenage debutants, accompanied by a sprinkling of first-team regulars, and as such, Brentford will surely look back on this exit as a significant opportunity missed.

One set of fans may sing about being champions of Europe, the other a bus stop in Hounslow, but this was on paper about as close to a meeting of equals as this west London derby has seen, at least until the visitors sent for the cavalry.

Brentford left perhaps their two best players on the bench in Christian Norgaard and Ivan Toney, but were otherwise close to full-strength off the back of their 11-day Covid hiatus, facing near enough the weakest side Tuchel has fielded in his Chelsea tenure.

 (REUTERS)
(REUTERS)

For the opening ten minutes the hosts seemed oblivious to that fact, as the visitors were allowed to dictate possession, but a burst down the left from the outstanding Rico Henry changed the mood and Mathias Jensen, Yoane Wissa and Henry himself all missed good chances before the break, with the Blues often in possession but rarely in command until the introductions of Jorginho and, latterly, Mount and Kante gave them the genuine control.

Frank spoke, typically romantically, before the game of wanting to create a little “Christmas miracle”, but in reality it was only a little more ruthlessness - and a little more luck - that denied them a semi-final spot.

Simons given tough night

Under different circumstances, Xavier Simons might’ve been looking for Carabao Cup minutes in red and white this season.

The teenager was on Brentford’s books until they made the increasingly vindicated decision to close their youth academy - ironically, in part, because its finest products were being poached by circling giants like Chelsea.

Simons made the switch to the Blues and has already had to battle back from two serious knee injuries in his brief career, so returning to Brentford this would have been a proud evening.

Unfortunately, it was also a pretty torrid one as the midfielder-by-trade was deployed out of position as a right-wing-back and was terrorised by Henry, who at one point shaped to cross and almost eyeballed his young opponent before realising the opening and driving past him to tee-up what should have been the opener for Jensen.

Henry has been magnificent for Brentford this season and even touted for England by his manager. More pressing, however, is that he is entering the final 18 months of his contract as the transfer window opens next month. Securing his future must be a priority.

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