It had been another eventful week in the weird world of Chelsea, where supporter dissent against the Ricketts family’s controversial bid to buy the club showed no sign of dying down, but few people could have imagined that it would end with Brentford turning up at Stamford Bridge to give the European champions a footballing lesson.
Before the inquest into Chelsea’s failings begin, it is important to stress that Brentford were superb: aggressive when they pressed, bold with the ball, and full of ambition as they eased their relegation fears with a first victory in this fixture since 1939.
As Thomas Frank acknowledged, it was worth the wait. After a lean run of form, this was Brentford rediscovering the zest that made them so compelling at the start of the season. Chelsea could not live with them, even though they went ahead when Antonio Rüdiger ended his quest for a long-range goal with a scorching drive just after half-time. The worry for Thomas Tuchel will be how easily it all unraveled, particularly as his side’s next assignment is the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final against Real Madrid.
Tellingly, there were no excuses from Tuchel about events off the pitch serving as a distraction. After all, it is unlikely that Chelsea’s players had paid much attention to the pre-game protests against the Ricketts family. Tuchel has told them to focus on their football ever since Roman Abramovich was sanctioned and although the ownership situation is a long way from being resolved, this defeat was simply down to Brentford outplaying Chelsea.
It is irrelevant that the day started with the Chelsea Supporters’ Trust voicing their opposition to the Ricketts, one of four groups hoping to buy the club. Change is coming, but this is still a ridiculously strong team. The resources at Tuchel’s disposal are enviable and Brentford deserve immense credit for coming up with a plan that allowed them to upset the odds.
It was not just about Ivan Toney and Bryan Mbeumo sparkling upfront. This was a remarkable team effort, enlivened by a dynamic goalscoring display from Vitaly Janelt in midfield, and in terms of romance, it was impossible to top the moment when Christian Eriksen found himself alone in the Chelsea area and lifted the ball over Édouard Mendy to give Brentford the lead nine minutes into the second half.
It was one of the most emotional moments of the season. Brentford had already shown character and quality to respond after Rüdiger’s astonishing opener, Janet instantly hauling them level, but the best came when a Chelsea attack broke down and Mbeumo led a rapid counterattack down the left flank.
The only question was whether Mbeumo could pick the pass and the striker did not disappoint. The ball across was perfect for Eriksen, who scored for Denmark during the international break, and Mendy was not quick enough off his line to deny him.
It was football at its purest. It seemed that Eriksen would never play again after almost dying from a cardiac arrest last summer and it is heartening to see that Brentford’s decision to sign the Dane in January is working out. “I’m pleased he is playing for us,” Frank said.
Bringing Eriksen in looks like a canny business on his display here. Chelsea could not cope with the former Tottenham midfielder’s subtle passing and they completely fell apart after going 2-1 down, their defensive discipline disappearing as goals from Janet and Yoane Wissa ensured Brentford moved 11 points above the bottom three.
There could be no arguments about the margin of victory. Chelsea was uncomfortable after lining up in a 4-3-3 system and Brentford, who used a 5-3-2, hassled them from the start, Toney spurning three decent opportunities during the first 11 minutes.
Chelsea could do little right, with Kai Havertz, Timo Werner, and Hakim Ziyech struggling upfront. Christian Nørgaard and Janet dominated Mason Mount, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, and N’Golo Kanté in midfield and there was plenty of space for Brentford on the flanks, as Rico Henry and Mads Roerslev repeatedly charged past César Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso.
The game belonged to Brentford, even though Havertz had a goal ruled out for offside during the second half. Toney and Mbeumo bullied Thiago Silva and Rüdiger, whose goal changed nothing. Moments later Toney and Mbeumo linked up and, as Chelsea’s midfield disappeared, Janet ran through to lash a rising shot past Mendy.
Chelsea was all over the place. Eriksen made it 2-1, Toney released Janet to score his second with a lovely dink and the rout was complete when poor defending from Rüdiger teed up Wissa.
Chelsea was stunned. Brentford could hardly believe it. They will not forget this win in a hurry.