LONDON, England — In the space of 10 minutes, Chelsea went from the familiar one-goal-to-good position at home, wondering if their season will unravel.
Antonio Rudiger’s wonderful goal early in the second half brought relief to Stamford Bridge, but it was only a momentary respite from the off-pitch property battle and now on-pitch uncertainty engulfs the club. What followed was a brutal display of the hosts’ fragile state as Christian Eriksen, Mads Roerslev and Bryan Mbuemo orchestrated a historic 4-1 victory for Brentford.
Three times Brentford hit Chelsea in the 50th-60th minute counterattack with Vitaly Janelt striking twice either side of Eriksen’s first Premier League goal for the Bees. Yoane Wissa grabbed a fourth from the dying embers of the game to guide them to their first victory since 1939 over their London neighbors – just 5.5 miles lies between Stamford Bridge and Brentford ground.
In their first season in the Premier League, it was Brentford’s biggest win of the campaign and one of the most impressive in the club’s history. It was orchestrated with turmoil, high pressing and brilliant nuisances for Chelsea. There was little respect for their traditional big brothers. Instead, Thomas Frank’s side worked out their tactics as Chelsea struggled to break the high pressure, leaving Brentford ready to counterattack whenever Chelsea’s desperation left them exposed at the back.
Mbuemo was the only ball out for Brentford, but it all came through that midfield maestro Eriksen. In his four starts for the club, they have won three – no wonder Frank is desperate to keep the Danish midfielder beyond the end of this season.
“Christian is a top player,” Frank said on Saturday. “It’s an ongoing fairy tale and I’m very happy about it. He’s calm on the ball, he finds a solution, and he provides goals and assists.”
Brentford’s win puts them 11 points above the relegation zone, and while they can start planning for next season, Chelsea’s immediate and distant future remains uncertain. With the club up for sale, there are four offers left before the April 11 deadline.
“We gave up three goals in 10 minutes, which is not typical. I don’t know why we did that,” Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel said afterwards. “We didn’t defend mature enough and it was very strange for us. We were punished. It’s a summary of strange events. which is normal. Normally the goal is exactly what we wanted to open up new spaces, but the opposite happened, and I don’t know why.”
The build-up to the match was dominated by talk of the identity of their potential owners and the controversy caused by the Ricketts family’s offer to buy the club. Earlier on Saturday, the Chelsea Supporters’ Trust said its members ‘do not support or have confidence in the Ricketts family’s bid for the club’. In a CST poll, they said 77% of its members did not support the Ricketts’ offer.
This was in response to comments made by Patriarch Joe Ricketts in a leaked email exchange several years ago that “Muslims are naturally our enemies.” It’s been three years since Joe Ricketts apologized after online outlet Splinter News published emails featuring him making anti-Islamic comments, such as Islam is “a sect, not a religion”.
On Saturday, the Ricketts family released a statement saying “diversity and inclusion” were central to their bid for the club, but judging by the hundred fans outside the stadium protesting their bid ( several banners reading ‘No to Ricketts’) and the CST statement, they fall far short of convincing the Stamford Bridge faithful to be the club’s good caretakers.
Tuchel asked the fans before the match to clarify their feelings off the pitch, and not during the match so as not to “distract” the team. He said ahead of the game the team were ‘unaffected’ by the protests, but it was still a bit strange outside the stadium with the giant merchandise store closed and souvenir vans empty.
Although the protests remained outside the stadium, Chelsea appeared shaken at first – Brentford could have had two in the opening 10 minutes with Ivan Toney causing all sorts of trouble – and although Chelsea rallied to pepper the goal from David Raya with well-slapped efforts, it took Rudiger’s thunderbolt of a drive (conservative estimates put him at around 35 yards) to break the deadlock.
Lower sides would have caved in after falling behind, but Brentford used it as a boost to move up a gear and Janelt equalized two minutes later. Mbuemo then picked Eriksen to finish from close range for their second, and Janelt added a third over Mendy – who had battled a knee injury throughout the game – to make it 3-1.
“We timed it perfectly to score all four goals in front of our fans,” Frank said. “In football you work so hard, so many hours, every day, every week. Sometimes you don’t get what you deserve but today it all clicked. Winning here at Stamford Bridge against the champions Europe, it was almost a complete performance. What I like is that we were brave, pressed high, it was a great moment for the club.”
As calm as Chelsea fans are, Brentford fans are enjoying it in their corner of the stadium. They went through their full repertoire of songs, and the third brought the first rendition of “We’re just a bus stop in Hounslow” – a self-deprecating song referencing previous hits by Queens Park Rangers fans.
Then Brentford added the wonderfully struck fourth in the 87th minute through substitute Wissa. They’re on the card now, but keeping Eriksen is key to developing this team.
Chelsea, meanwhile, is plagued by uncertainty. The picture for off-pitch ownership should become clearer by the end of the month, but it might be too late to keep their defensive spine together and the season on track.
With Andreas Christensen reportedly set to join Barcelona, Rudiger also out of contract and Cesar Azpilicueta’s future uncertain despite the club triggering an extension clause in his contract, there are far too many distractions for that Tuchel feels comfortable as he plans another great game. Wednesday. And that’s on top of Timo Werner’s underperformance, Marcos Alonso’s poor performance and those endless mistakes.
“It looks like another blow. I would refuse to make a drama out of it,” Tuchel said on Saturday. “Why should we? Brentford did a lot of the 10 minutes we gave them. After the third goal we had a goal disallowed and then we had a big, big chance from Kai Havertz and we missed them It’s a mix of everything, but I wouldn’t rely on it to be fate. We’ll find out why it was like that, we’ll analyze, digest – it’s unusual for us and hard to bear. We’ll refocus Monday.”
With Real Madrid arriving in the Champions League quarter-finals this week and Crystal Palace in the FA Cup semi-finals on April 17, Tuchel needs to get this team back on track. Chelsea looked slow with one pass after a misplaced pass.
By the time Wissa hit Brentford’s fourth, Chelsea fans were already flocking for the outings. With blue seats dotted around Stamford Bridge and Brentford fans chanting ‘We want five’ ringing in the ears of Chelsea players, Tuchel shook Frank’s hand and headed straight into the tunnel at the whistle at full-time. He hopes that result was just a simple blip rather than the start of the season falling apart.