Brentford absolutely hammered Chelsea but Edouard Mendy stood firm. Sadio Mane raged against his Ballon d’Or omission and so should you.
As Brentford rifled through the many tools on their Swiss Army Knife, the champions of Europe quivered and trembled but never surrendered. By the feet of Trevoh Chalobah, the face of Edouard Mendy and the power of Grayskull, Chelsea secured three points. Earned might be pushing it.
Thomas Tuchel warned that Chelsea’s hosts “won’t give us a single inch”. That is all Brentford might have needed for a justified equaliser: a couple of centimetres to the right and Bryan Mbeumo’s first-half effort could have gone in; the same to the left in the second half and the Frenchman would have been celebrating; a step or so behind and Chalobah would surely have been dismissed and a penalty awarded for his foul on Ivan Toney. Replays remain inconclusive as to whether the Brentford striker really was offside or played on by Ben Chilwell.
From the bench, Chilwell has emerged as an unlikely source for goals. The clincher in a 3-1 win over Southampton preceded an international break in which he scored his first for England. Both games might have been won without his attacking input but the left-back was needed to rattle the Bees’ nest on Saturday evening.
His sublime half-volley crowned Chelsea’s least meaningful, cogent, effective move of the game. Some intricate passing masked the space in which Chilwell had drifted, his presence revealed only by a Cesar Azpilicueta cross that bounced out to the edge of the area as Romelu Lukaku wrestled with Pontus Jansson.
That was just as the clock ticked over to 45 minutes. For the next half, Chelsea were almost exclusively penned in their own area.
They hacked at clearances, scrambling the ball away into any nominal space towards the halfway line as Timo Werner fed off panicked scraps. It was as if they were collectively lost at sea and gasping for air, clutching at any vague respite from the terror.
Manchester City smothered and suffocated them at Stamford Bridge last month, launching breathless waves of attacks, winning the ball back instantly on the occasion Chelsea managed to smuggle it clear and maintaining the pressure. Brentford did much the same but football is an impossible beast to tame and so a 1-0 defeat can closely resemble a 1-0 win.
Mendy was at the heart of the resistance with an absurd display. Brentford attacked in a variety of different ways: from deep corners and long throw-ins, complex passing patterns and elaborate through balls. They were direct. They were evasive. They had 13 shots, hit the post twice and came up against an inspired goalkeeper.
Sadio Mane raged against Mendy’s “unacceptable” Ballon d’Or omission and his absence from the 30-man shortlist does beg painful but necessary questions about misconceptions of African keepers as erratic and untrustworthy. He was the anchor that kept Chelsea’s ship steady in choppy waters, repelling Toney, Saman Ghoddos, Christian Norgaard and Ethan Pinnock with increasing implausibility.
Taking one right in the kisser from Jansson caused one of the two injury stoppages Chelsea ensured to milk as they caught their breath in the persistent Brentford onslaught. Some might suggest Anthony Taylor and his officiating team did not reflect those added minutes well enough, or that the Toney offside seemed questionable. But none could deny Mendy his moment when he roared towards the west London sky at full time. Chelsea had been in an almighty scrap but their guardian stayed up, went down and came out swinging. You could see why Mane was so frustrated.