So Rafa Benitez has managed Chelsea to 3 wins in a row for the first time since December. Clearly he knew losing was not an option and he fielded a full-strength team to reinforce that feeling knowing that he could not allow Brentford to win a meeting with Middlesborough to decide who would join the 3 other lower league teams to book their place in the FA Cup quarter-finals so far. Barnsley, Millwall and Blackburn already ensured that some of the countries less glamorous sides were still represented in the FA Cup and Brentford wanted to have a chance to join that group but clearly the Blues watched and learned from Arsenal’s shocking defeat to Blackburn at the Emirates and did not allow themselves to get complacent turning in a totally professional performance against the Bee’s in their 4th round replay.
The 4-0 thumping of Brentford in the first West London derby between the 2 teams at Stamford Bridge in 7 decades, confirmed we are still vying for silverware on two fronts – the Europa League and the FA Cup. (I think we have to concede that the Premiership is out of reach this season despite the fact we are not mathematically eliminated from winning it yet). Brentford worked their socks off in the first half against us and kept the scores knotted at 0-0 through to half time but the pressure and class told in the second half as Chelsea exploded with 4 unanswered goals.
The highlights of the match were the awesome goals. Mata opened the scoring in the 54th minute with a lovely left foot strike from just inside the box; then Oscar sparkled again scoring with a sumptuous flick from Ivanovic’s cross for the second; Mata then turned provider delivering an inch perfect cross for Lampard to expertly finish with a low right foot volley and JT put the icing on the cake as he headed in the fourth from a wicked cross by the on-fire Oscar. Frank Lampard’s goal takes him to within 3 goals of Bobby Tambling’s club goal-scoring record and it seems like it is simply a matter of time before he breaks it.
The absolute low point of the match was David Luiz’s cynical shoulder barge on Brentford substitute Jake Reeves as the game wound down. Luiz was very lucky to escape with just a yellow card for the totally needless challenge as he flattened the Bees player and referee Swarbrick would have been completely justified in showing the Brazilian captain a straight red card. This incident shows the slightly petulant streak in Luiz’s temperament which he needs to learn to control. He is not the only player to have such a streak (Rooney, Beckham and Zidane also come to mind) but he needs to be sure it does not cost his team games or it will be a problem for him in his career.
So Chelsea are now on a streak of 25 FA Cup matches without losing, this is excluding the dreaded penalty shoot-outs, with Barnsley the last team to beat us in March 2008. The Blues now face a visit to the Riverside to play Championship side Middlesborough for a place in the quarter-final and given our recent brilliant record in the competition, we have to believe we have a great chance of retaining the trophy even if we will have to beat the winner of Reading vs Manchester United in that quarter final.
Holding a 1-0 advantage in our Europa League tie against Sparta Prague with the added benefit of an away goal means we are looking good to advance to the next round to play the winner of winner of Romania’s Steaua vs Holland’s Ajax. Given Rafa Benitez’s European pedigree and the quality of our squad we have to believe we are one of the favorites to secure the trophy. Adding the Europa League to our trophy cabinet would give us a sweep of the European competitions and is well within the capabilities of the team.
So why can’t we allow ourselves to look forward to JT lifting a couple of trophies above his head in May? The answer is we can. This season is clearly one of transition but it is pretty impressive and a testament to the talent of the squad that we are still serious contenders to win a cup double especially when you consider the massive upheaval at the club when the interim manager was appointed not to mention the distractions of contract matters, injuries and high profile suspensions plus the fact that the team has not even hit top form yet.