Panic over. Following the controversy surrounding Diego Costa’s ‘back injury’ which saw him miss the trip to Leicester, it was great to see the Spaniard back in the starting eleven, looking happy and scoring as Chelsea eased to a 2-0 win over Hull City.
Whether Costa had had his head turned by a move to China, whether he had had a row with Antonio Conte and/or the fitness coach, or whether he was genuinely injured, it appears as though a line has been drawn under the matter and the boys in blue can get on with their mission this term: recapturing the Premier League crown.
Hull were game and as determined as expected, with Harry Maguire outstanding at centre half, but once Costa had given us the lead on the stroke of half time it felt like there was only ever going to be one winner. And so it proved when Gary Cahill notched the second in the 81st minute.
There’s a break from Premier League action on Saturday as we welcome Barnet to Stamford Bridge for an FA Cup fourth round tie, but you can bet your bottom dollar that Conte and his management team will have laser-like focus on Tuesday night’s trip to Anfield, which won’t make or break the campaign by any means; although victory would all but knock the Reds out of the title race.
So we expect a much-changed side to take to the hallowed turf at the weekend; will it be enough to get past Brentford?
Chelsea Team News
This fixture offers a chance for weary legs to be rested and fringe players to be given a chance to shine, and we expect Conte to make full use of the opportunity with league games against Liverpool and Arsenal in the space of four days next week.
He has already confirmed that Gary Cahill, ever present this term, will probably sit this one out, and with an abundance of options in his squad more changes are likely.
The Brentford tie offers the likes of Michy Batshuayi, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Nathaniel Chalobah the chance to continue their footballing education, while Nathan Ake may get to pull on the blue shirt for the first time in a long time.
Chelsea v Brentford Head to Head
These two sides have met on 13 different occasions in the past, and as recently as 2013 – almost four years to the day of this fixture in fact - in the FA Cup.
A 2-2 at Griffin Park took the game into a replay, and at Stamford Bridge the Blues made their home advantage count with a dominant 4-0 victory.
All in all, Chelsea lead the head-to-head 7-4 with two draws; our last defeat against the Bees coming back in 1939!
How the Match Will Be Won
In a bizarre echo of the Diego Costa situation, Brentford look set to once again be without their key frontman, Scott Hogan. Brentford boss Dean Smith suggested a tight hamstring was the reason for the striker’s ongoing absence although he also alluded to a trio of reported bids from West Ham for the 24-year-old.
"With what he's been told is on offer for him, it's very hard for him to go out and play," he told the BBC. "It's very difficult when I think a player is getting starved of football when he wants to play, but speculation and phone calls are turning his head."
Without Hogan, Brentford look less of a force going forward; his pace and ability to run the channels is paramount to their counter-attacking style. Assuming he doesn’t play on Saturday, the life of Chelsea’s back three will be that bit easier. Is it coincidence that they have lost their last two without him?
The Bees will pack the midfield with at least five bodies – one of whom will be former blue Josh McEachran, and look to spring lively counters courtesy of Romain Sawyers and Lasse Vibe. They are a youthful, pacey side that does appear vulnerable to sides that get in amongst them; as Wigan did in their 2-1 victory last time out.
Chelsea’s biggest issue will be a lack of continuity amongst what is set to be an unusual starting eleven, but if they can hit the ground running then there will be plenty of opportunities to open up this Brentford backline. The Bees have conceded in 10 of their last 12 Championship outings – including 2+ in seven of those so it is clear where their weakness lies.
We’re expecting Willian or Pedro to start, probably the former, and he will be crucial in linking up with Michy Batshuayi and providing the main goal threat. If we can get Cesc Fabregas on the ball in the middle of the park then we can capitalise on the Spaniard’s unerring ability to pick a pass by bypassing the packed middle third of the pitch.
We’re expecting a Chelsea win here, primarily because we don’t see them conceding and Brentford are rocky at the back. A victory inside 90 minutes here would be a huge fillip for Conte’s B team!