It will be a cold day in hell before Chelsea fans warm to Rafael Benitez, but by winning their FA Cup fourth round replay over Brentford, the Spaniard ensured that he has earned a few days respite, at least, before we start delivering horse heads in his bed at night. All four goals came in the second half, and the distribution of them - two from youngsters and two from veterans, perfectly highlights the balance that Benitez needs to maintain if he wants to see this Chelsea side continue to win in the future.
Brentford gave a spirited performance, and even had the ball in the net in the first half, but only after the referee had blown his whistle. They played with the same verve and confidence displayed at Griffin Park, and showed no signs of being daunted by their more glamorous west London counterparts. Chelsea fans went into the second half wondering if it was going to be one of those days, only to have our nerves settled by our standout performer this season, Juan Mata. The furry Spaniard picked up on a Demba Ba’s knockdown and powered his left foot through the ball. Stamford Bridge erupted, faith was restored.
There was considerably less beauty to Chelsea’s second goal, which was a messy affair in the pandemonium of the penalty box. Scorer Oscar will have no complaints, though; eight goals is not a huge return for a player who plays in as attacking a position as he does, so he will be happy to claim any type of goal. My first ever Sabotage Times piece was about Oscar following his amazing brace against Juventus, and while the boy has continued to dazzle in Europe, his form has been less consistent in the premiership; his lone league goal for Chelsea being a penalty. There is something about Cup competitions that the Brazilian seems to prefer over league games, but it would be encouraging if he took the form he displayed on Thursday - not being on the pitch 30 seconds before scoring the winner for Chelsea - as well as the confidence boost from scoring two games in a row - into his league form.
Frank Lampard had had a Torres-esque game up until his goal, scuffing a gilt-edged chance and then hitting his second one completely off-target. But this is what distinguishes the Englishman from the hapless Spaniard. Lampard doesn’t let miskicks phase him; they only make him more determined to score on his next chance. His goal on the 70th minute was trademark Lamps; no pussyfooting around, just put his foot through it and blasted it into the net, giving the goalkeeper no chance. That he never stops making runs into the penalty box from defensive midfield is encouraging. That this was his tenth start in a row for Chelsea shows that he has no intention of playing into critics’ hands of “being too old” as an argument against him.
John Terry’s goal will have been sweet relief following tabloid reports that he’d had a falling out with Benitez following his defensive mishaps against Newcastle that allowed them to beat us. As much as Chelsea fans detest Benitez, we never like hearing about dressing room fraction, so Terry’s words of reassurance that such reports were pure fabrication after the game were comforting.
The Chelsea captain has been caught in what has been described as a “vicious circle” in trying to get fit following his collision with Luis Suarez back in November that exacerbated his knee injury. The problem, essentially, is that Terry has not been 100% fit for a long time, but part of the step towards gaining match fitness is to get game time and by being on the pitch in the first place. Therein lies the dilemma. Terry, naturally, is eager to play and feels he’s fit, but Benitez is more cautious about his development, particularly given that, last season, John Terry rushed himself into contention to play against QPR despite not being fully fit, and aggravated his injury in the process.
Whatever the politics and the behind-the-scenes B/S that us mere mortals are not privy to, it was good to see Terry on the teamsheet today and he displayed true niftiness with the way he headed in Oscar’s cross, particularly as the ball fell out to such an acute angle. Terry also scored on his return from injury in the aforementioned league game against Liverpool, only to have his game marred by Suarez injuring him. Thankfully, there were no late twists in today’s game, and the skipper finished the game victorious, and unscathed.
Despite what Abramovich thinks about the need to redux the squad and ridding Chelsea of all their older players, this is simply not practical. He realised this before it was too late with regards to Ashley Cole, who played himself into a one-year contract extension. As they demonstrated today, Frank Lampard and John Terry are just as integral to the team. They, too, need to hang around, for the next year at least. Their legs may not be fresh, but their brains and souls are experienced.
After all, for all the invention of an Oscar or a Hazard, they lack the wisdom and composure that Frank Lampard has, composure that has seen him hit the net five times in his last eight appearances for Chelsea. At the same time, however, without the wizardry of these players, Lampard wouldn’t have scored these goals; case in point - it was Mata’s cross today that allowed the Englishman to score Chelsea’s third. This mix of old and new bring out the best in each other, and it is no surprise that in games this season where the manager has fielded an entirely youthful squad, the team has stuttered.
Thanks to the win today, Ivanovic and Cole maintain their records of never having lost an FA Cup game that they have played in for Chelsea, and Lampard has become the outright leading scorer in this competition for Chelsea, eclipsing Bobby Tambling. It would be extremely sweet if, following all the trials and tribulations of this stormy season, Chelsea went all the way in the FA Cup yet again. Having won it four times in the last six years, we certainly have a special relationship with it, and possess a squad that is more than capable of doing so. It is the equilibrium between old and young legs, however, that remains integral to whether or not we do.