Given that Chelsea were coming into the FA Cup Replay against Brentford with back-to-back wins over Sparta Praha and Wigan, the starting XI wielded by manager Rafael Benitez suggested that the Blues would stroll past the visitors easily. However the performance from the reigning European champions was in reality another laboured performance.
Benitez welcomed back Victor Moses from his successful spell at the African Cup of Nations along with skipper John Terry, despite rumours of a dressing room clash with Benitez after the defeat to Newcastle United, and Demba Ba, who wore the famous Batman mask.
At the game was former manager Avram Grant and owner Roman Abramovich wearing his Champions League jacket looking on as the crowd chanted "sign him up" pointing towards Frank Lampard whose contract runs out this summer.
|The new look Demba Ba!|
It was yet another dismal first half performance by the Pensioners who were held by Brentford for most part of the game and the closest they got was when Brazilian playmaker Oscar hit the post. Brentford were quick on the counter attacks and almost made Chelsea pay for their sloppy start when they had the ball in the back of the net, but thanks to the referee's whistle the game was stopped for a foul. It looked like another one of those days when Chelsea lacked ideas and the League 2 side looked focussed, determined and took the game to the hosts.
After the break, it looked like Chelsea had resorted back to their old Mourinho style of football and it was one of the long balls by Petr Cech that ultimately found Juan Mata who rose to the occasion once again scoring a wonderful goal to put the hosts in front. From then on, it looked like the whole side lifted their form to Mata's level as goals by Oscar, Lampard and Terry helped Chelsea cruise to the next round of the Cup where they will play their on-loan star Josh McEachran's side Middlesbrough at the Riverside.
"Let me enjoy today and then we will think about it," said a relieved Rafa Benitez who must be thanking his goal scorers and one in specific - Juan Mata.
When Chelsea signed a plethora of midfielders at the start of the season, one would have thought the burden on Mata's shoulder would lessen, although that has certainly not been the case as the Spaniard has taken his game to a whole new level this season.
|The Special Juan|
|Mata's performance from the Player Ratings:
"As always, he was at the centre of everything Chelsea did well, and it was no surprise when he was the man to break the deadlock. Finding little pockets of space almost by instinct, he tormented Brentford and set up Lampard for the Blues' third. He is brilliant, but Rafa Benitez will be wishing his team were not quite so reliant on him."
Mata's vital stats this season:
Ever since Gianfranco Zola left Chelsea many players have tried to fill in that role few have even come close to what the Italian had, although none could match the standards set by the Chelsea legend
Mata belongs to an extraordinary generation of Spanish playmakers. Although the likes of Xavi, David Silva, Andres Iniesta have dominated the Spanish lineup over the years, Mata's performance for the past two years has been outstanding.
Not to forget that the former Real Madrid youth team player is coming from a league which isn't as physical as the Premier League and the manner in which he has found his bearings since his debut against Norwich is a testament to the talent this dimunitive Spaniard has.
Ever since he has joined Chelsea, his best position has been up for a debate. Andre Villas-Boas started the Spaniard on the left side of the midfield and moved him to the centre at times.
Roberto Di Matteo recognised the influence of the Spaniard in a central role and this proved to be the key to unlocking the former Valencia man's outrageous talent. Rafael Benitez has just implemented what his predecessor vouched for and it has proven to be successful.
The Spaniard has played a key role in Chelsea's 37 goals this season assisting 20 and scoring 17 and without him Chelsea have looked short of ideas when going forward.
Juan Mata has become a star at Chelsea. Without him it is hard to guess where Chelsea would have been in the league. His emergence from a squad player to a team star has helped Chelsea get over the loss of their talisman forward Dider Drogba and injuries and suspensions throughout the campaign. His ability to stay fit for most part of the season has been a boon for Chelsea and there is no denying that Juan Mata has become the face of Chelsea FC.
Follow Shikharr Chandra on
How do you stay up with football when on the move? With http://m.goal.com –your best source for mobile coverage of the beautiful game.