Chelsea see off Brentford, maintain winning feeling

Posted by Phil Lythell

Scott Heavey/Getty ImagesChelsea seemed to go through the motions against Brentford but nevertheless notched a third straight victory.

In a season in which the FA Cup has seen an inordinate amount of shocking results, the fact that Chelsea overcame Brentford 4-0 in their fourth-round replay could be regarded as a bullet dodged.

Arsenal's defeat to Blackburn has seen them join Liverpool and Tottenham in the list of giant-killing victims with the number of big names left in the competition dwindling with every round. Everton are also far from assured of their place in the quarterfinals after a spirited Oldham side reprised their heroics against Liverpool to book a replay at Goodison Park. Chelsea are still a round behind due to their intense fixture schedule but will now fancy their chances of beating Middlesbrough in the next stage of the tournament and proceeding yet further to win what would be a fifth FA Cup in seven years.

The lineup named by Rafael Benitez was undeniably strong and was a statement of intent as to how seriously the club were taking this competition. It was then all the more frustrating to see a complete lack of intensity from the players who should have been eager to put the tie to bed in the early stages. There were echoes of the listless, disinterested display against Sparta Prague on Thursday that saw many of the players merely go through the motions against inferior opposition. Although fatigue and a desire to conserve energy for more stringent tests further down the line have a certain legitimacy, it would have been nice to see a greater degree of urgency from the first whistle. The midday kickoff may well have been a factor -- the Blues often look off the pace early on in lunchtime encounters -- but that should never be considered a viable excuse.

As one would expect, the greater enthusiasm came from Brentford, and Chelsea struggled to match their energy in the first 45 minutes. There were glimpses of goal from Branislav Ivanovic and a good opening spurned by Frank Lampard, though the more testing opportunities came at the other end of the pitch, where the Bees' Adam Forshaw was a constant menace. Possession was dominated by the Blues, yet the better chances were created by the League One side.

Once the breakthrough was made via a trademark arrow of a shot from the silky Juan Mata 10 minutes after halftime, it should have been the signal for Chelsea to take full control of the match. Instead, they eased off the accelerator and Brentford fought their way back into the game, pushing the Cup holders onto the back foot when they should have been pressing forward. The inability to maintain momentum for any sustained period has become a worrying trend of the Benitez era. It is all very well protecting a hard-fought lead, but when a team is as prone to leaking soft goals as Chelsea have become, then surely attack is the best form of defence. After all, this is hardly the same team that that conceded just 15 Premier League goals in the 2004-05 season under Jose Mourinho. This side needs to actively outscore the opposition rather than rely on a solid back four.

Nevertheless, there were several encouraging aspects to take from the match. Oscar had his best game in months and was the outstanding performer on the field. Fresh from his goal-scoring cameo in the Czech Republic, he picked up from where he left off on Thursday to make smart runs and play intelligent passes. With Mata feeling his way into the game for the first hour, it was the Brazilian who was at the heart of Chelsea's most creative moments and he fully deserved his strike even if it should have never made it over the goal line.

David Luiz's return to central midfield gave the side a better balance, though only he will know what he was thinking when he shoulder-charged Jake Reeves in the closing stages. It was a naughty and unnecessary challenge which on another day could have seen more than just a yellow card. It was also comforting to see John Terry play from the start. He has been understandably rusty in his brief outings since he recovered from injury, though this time he was able to exude the calming influence that the defence has so clearly lacked in his absence.

The victory has also seen Chelsea record three wins back-to-back for the first time in 2013. It has to be admitted that none of those -- against Wigan, Sparta Prague and Brentford -- have been entirely convincing, yet they say winning is a habit, one to which the Blues can hopefully become addicted. With the exception of Manchester City away next Sunday, Chelsea face a raft of extremely winnable league games against the likes of West Bromwich Albion, Fulham, West Ham, Southampton and Sunderland as well as gentle-looking fixtures against Sparta Prague and Middlesbrough in the cups.

Should complacency and negativity be shelved and this winning run be continued, then Chelsea can look forward to a more pleasant stage of the season than the unpredictable mess that has preceded it.

Follow Phil Lythell on Twitter @PhilLythell

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