Monday 23 October 2017

Ivanovic stars in what could be his Chelsea farewell

Chelsea 4 Brentford 0

Chelsea’s Michy Batshuayi celebrates scoring his side’s fourth goal
Chelsea’s Michy Batshuayi celebrates scoring his side’s fourth goal

David Hytner

Chelsea4

Brentford0

Brentford's John Egan tussels with Chelsea's Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Photo: Paul Childs/Reuters
Brentford's John Egan tussels with Chelsea's Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Photo: Paul Childs/Reuters

Stamford Bridge

Antonio Conte can do no wrong at present. The Chelsea manager watched his team ease into the fifth round of the FA Cup at the expense of Brentford, who did not turn up until the second half, and the icing on the cake was provided by Branislav Ivanovic.

Conte introduced the Chelsea stalwart, whose future at the club is uncertain, as a 64th-minute substitute and, with his first meaningful involvement, he plundered his first goal of the season to make it 3-0. Ivanovic gave the ball to Pedro and rumbled forward in support before getting it back and squeezing a low finish underneath Daniel Bentley.

There was more. Ivanovic got himself into the area towards the end and, when he was taken out by Yoann Barbet, referee Michael Oliver, pointed to the penalty spot. Michy Batshuayi scored to round off Chelsea's 17th win in their past 19 matches. For the Premier League leaders, the double remains on.

Chelsea's Michy Batshuayi in action with Brentford's Harlee Dean. Photo: Eddie Keogh/Reuters
Chelsea's Michy Batshuayi in action with Brentford's Harlee Dean. Photo: Eddie Keogh/Reuters

Conte made nine changes to the line-up that had beaten Hull City in the league but it did not matter. His team had cohesion and punch where it mattered, with Pedro outstanding and Willian and Ruben Loftus-Cheek not too far behind. Pedro scored the second goal and had a hand in the first and third.

Brentford were off the pace in the first half and the manager Dean Smith suggested that his players had "subconsciously dropped a bit deep" after Pedro's goal in the 21st minute. They were better at the beginning of the second half and Chelsea were indebted to Asmir Begovic for denying Lasse Vibe and Nico Yennaris.

There is the possibly that this might have been the last game for Ivanovic and Begovic in Chelsea colours, with Zenit St Petersburg among the clubs keen on taking the former before the transfer deadline and Bournemouth pushing for the latter.

Conte made it clear that he was open to either player leaving, although he would first demand a replacement for Begovic. "Ivan is not playing a lot and that is difficult for him," Conte said. "In this situation, for sure, the player must make the best decision for him and his family. Has Ivanovic asked to leave? I prefer to keep those conversations private. Begovic is in the same situation."

Chelsea's opening goal came early and it was a beautifully-executed free-kick from Willian, which he got to dip sharply after it had cleared the defensive wall.

Pedro then scored with a touch and low finish following Batshuayi's ball forward and the home team had many more chances, with the marauding Loftus-Cheek showing his power and a deft touch, too.

The Championship club brought 6,000 fans and they found their voices when their team began the second half with a little more hustle. Smith sent on Ireland-qualified striker Scott Hogan but Chelsea were on another level. Loftus-Cheek hit the bar on 58 minutes before Ivanovic made his push for the headlines. (Observer)

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