Chelsea into Carabao Cup semi-finals after Jorginho seals win at Brentford
Perhaps Chelsea’s personnel problems have been overstated. After all, their complaints about the schedule felt slightly overblown when Thomas Tuchel, looking for a way to settle this Carabao Cup quarter-final, turned to his bench with 14 minutes left and told N’Golo Kanté to get ready.
Was it more irresponsible behaviour from Tuchel? He had said he risked injuring Kanté by starting him when Chelsea were short of numbers against Wolves last Sunday and everything had pointed to him giving the midfielder a breather before the European champions attempt to revive their faltering Premier League challenge when they visit Aston Villa on Boxing Day.
Yet it turns out that Tuchel, who had already introduced Jorginho, Christian Pulisic, Mason Mount and Reece James, was fibbing when he said that Kanté would play no part against Brentford. Or perhaps he had a late change of heart. Either way the gamble was worth it. Chelsea are a different team when Kanté is fit and he underlined his importance to Tuchel during his brief cameo here, taking control of midfield as soon as he came on and starting the move that culminated in Pontus Jansson’s game-changing own goal.
Kanté, who has been badly missed since limping off against Juventus last month, had been on the pitch for only four minutes when Jansson inadvertently put Chelsea ahead. In truth, it was a deserved goal. Chelsea had called the shots after surviving a testing opening period and a semi-final against Tottenham was theirs once Jorginho had killed Brentford off with a late penalty.
In the end Brentford were left to rue a missed opportunity. Thomas Frank’s side were wasteful in the opening period and they were outclassed when Tuchel’s changes upped the ante in the second half. “The first half, we should definitely have been in front,” Frank said. “The second half, we struggled to create. But we gave nothing away until the 80th minute. Two mistakes gave them their goals.”
There was a callow feel to Chelsea at the start. Injuries and positive Covid tests left them without nine key players and forced Tuchel to hand debuts to three teenagers. The risks were clear and there is no doubt that Tuchel would have preferred to wait rather than use the kids here.
Nonetheless this was an opportunity for Chelsea to show off their brilliant academy. The attack was led by Jude Soonsup-Bell, a 17-year-old forward, and there was excitement about seeing Harvey Vale playing off the front. Vale is tipped to be the next big star at Chelsea and the 18-year-old was involved when the visitors made their first chance, combining with Soonsup-Bell before Ross Barkley screwed a volley wide.
Inevitably, though, Chelsea were vulnerable before the break. It was difficult for the youngsters given that the academy had been shut for a week because of Covid. Soonsup-Bell was unable to assert himself and Vale was wasteful with a free header. At right wing-back meanwhile, Xavier Simons often had his hands full with Rico Henry.
Brentford, who also had selection issues after postponing their game against Southampton last weekend, should have led at half-time. Yoane Wissa and Mathias Jensen both saw easy headers saved by Kepa Arrizabalaga, who was also out quickly to deny Henry when the wing-back surged behind Simons.
Those misses came back to haunt Brentford. They could not get at Chelsea’s back three of Malang Sarr, César Azpilicueta and Trevoh Chalobah after the break. Tuchel had acted, bringing on Pulisic for Soonsup-Bell, while Mateo Kovacic had made way for Jorginho after making his first start since October. “We did everything to be in the semi-final,” Tuchel said. “We deserve to be there. We had a brilliant performance.”
Chelsea were more like themselves after Tuchel’s tweaks. Jorginho controlled midfield and the opening goal almost arrived when Saúl Ñíguez, making only his sixth start since joining on loan from Atlético Madrid, crossed from the left. Álvaro Fernández, who would also save well from Barkley, had to react quickly to stop Henry scoring an own goal.
The pressure grew when Mount, James and Kanté replaced Vale, Simons and Barkley. Kanté was untouchable. He kept finding gaps and soon made the difference, driving into space and finding James, whose cross was diverted in by Jansson.
Chelsea’s strength in depth was too much for Brentford. Soon the £58m Pulisic was running through before being fouled by Fernández. Jorginho, who finished third in this year’s Ballon d’Or standings, tucked the penalty away and Tuchel could turn his thoughts to taking on Villa.