After a Capital One Cup defeat to Swansea and Eden Hazard's sensationalized ball-boy shenanigans, the last thing Chelsea needed to face was potential embarrassment in an FA Cup fourth-round tie away to humble neighbors Brentford.
By the time Rafa Benitez's team took to the claustrophobic surrounds of Griffin Park, three Premier League teams had already suffered cup shocks to supposedly lesser opponents—Aston Villa to Millwall, QPR to MK Dons and, most strikingly, Norwich City to non-league Luton.
Brentford would have their chance to become the fourth.
The League One club, seven miles down the road in West London but a million miles away in terms of Chelsea's spending power and status among the game's elite, had nothing to lose. Chelsea had one of two remaining shots at a trophy on the line in a season that is slipping away from them, while Benitez was potentially trying to save his job.
Ninety throbbing minutes of helter-skelter football later, the FA Cup holders and European champions were lucky to still be breathing. Goals from Marcello Trotta and Harry Forrester—from the penalty spot—threatened a giant-killing, before Fernando Torres struck in the 83rd minute to earn the Blues a replay.
Torres' sweetly taken goal—a shock in itself perhaps—brought Chelsea a reprieve they deserved, but it won't mask their flaws. Brentford had the better of the first half, running riot down Chelsea's right flank and firing off eights shots to the visitors' two. They were quicker to the loose ball and delivered more intensity in every area.
By comparison, Chelsea looked frail and vulnerable. Marko Marin, Oscar and Ryan Bertrand struggled to impose themselves, while Chelsea's defence was being shook up by a Brentford team on the rampage. Nerves were most noticeable when John Terry and Ross Turnbull suffered a breakdown in communication that saw them give away an indirect free kick for a pass back.
Brentford's fans smelled blood, and it flowed in the 42nd minute when Trotta reacted smartly to a Turnbull save and put Uwe Rosler's side ahead.
Benitez left for the tunnel muttering to himself at halftime, and it was no surprise to see the ineffective Marin replaced by Juan Mata for the second 45. Chelsea desperately needed to find some impetus, or a second cup tie in the space of four days was in danger of passing them by.
Ten minutes later, their expensively assembled cast finally hinted at its worth. Oscar picked up possession in the Brentford box, skipped a challenge and steered a sweet shot into the top corner with the outside of his right foot. It was a sumptuous goal, and one that Chelsea could not have been more grateful for.
You sensed from there the game was theirs, but Brentford refused to lie down and regained their lead from the penalty spot after Tom Adeyemi was felled by Turnbull. Some will argue Turnbull should have seen red and not yellow for his trip, but Adeyemi had lost control of the ball, and this was not a clear goalscoring opportunity.
Chelsea now had 20 minutes to save face. Benitez brought on Demba Ba and paired him with Torres, and within seconds the two duly combined to produce a fine equalizer—£57 million in the making—and save their manager a humiliation he may not have survived. Roman Abramovich is not known for his patience, after all.
An entertaining game finished with Chelsea in the ascendancy and a penalty shout for handball against Harlee Dean turned down, but Brentford—unlike Brighton against Arsenal—held firm to earn a lucrative replay at Stamford Bridge.
Benitez has Torres to thank for his act of escapology, but it won't mask another unconvincing argument for his continued presence in the hottest hot seat of them all.