League One side Brentford will be looking to pull off a giant-killing when they host holders Chelsea in the Fourth Round of the FA Cup on Sunday (12pm GMT, live on ESPN).
The Bees began their FA Cup campaign back in November against the far less glamorous opposition of Boreham Wood, and have subsequently seen off Bradford City and Southend United to progress to the Fourth Round.
Brentford’s manager, the former Manchester City striker Uwe Rosler, has recently agreed a deal to stay at the club until 2015 and his side are flying high in League One, currently in third position with 50 points from 13 wins, 11 draws and four defeats.
Rosler’s men have been in good form in recent months, losing just one of their last 11 matches in all competitions, and have only lost twice at home all season, otherwise recording 11 victories and four draws at Griffin Park.
The Bees finished ninth last season in Rosler’s debut campaign and there has been clear progression this time around, with Brentford, on average, scoring more (1.46 per match, up from 1.37) and conceding less (0.96 per match, down from 1.13) than last season.
The club’s primary goal scorer is Craig Donaldson, League One’s second-highest scorer with 15 goals from 28 appearances, but the likes of Harry Forester (six goals), Jonathan Douglas (four) and Paul Hayes (four) have also chipped in. Donaldson also leads their scoring in the FA Cup, with four goals in their five matches (including replays) to date.
At the other end of the pitch, Brentford’s defence is well marshalled by Tony Craig, a free transfer signing from Millwall, ably assisted by former Manchester City youth product Shaleum Logan. In midfield, Adam Forshaw (ex-Everton) has starred alongside Harlee Dean, signed on a free transfer from Southampton after a successful loan spell last season.
Rosler will be without the suspended Jake Bidwell for Sunday’s tie after the young full-back was sent off for two bookable offences in Brentford’s midweek draw with Leyton Orient, but does not otherwise have any major selection problems heading into the match.
Rosler’s opposite number Rafael Benitez is likely to shuffle his pack a little on Sunday, but does have some enforced absences, with David Luiz and Oriol Romeu injured, Eden Hazard suspended and Victor Moses and Jon Obi Mikel away on Africa Cup of Nations duty.
Benitez watched on with frustration on Wednesday as Chelsea failed to overcome their two-goal first leg deficit and thus were eliminated at the semi-final stage of the Capital One Cup by Swansea. Not only did he witness an opportunity for silverware slip away, but also, potentially, his hopes of being appointed manager on a long-term basis this summer.
Chelsea are some way off the pace in the Premier League, 11 points behind leaders Manchester United with 45 points from 13 wins, six draws and four defeats, and therefore cup competitions offer Benitez his best hope of picking up a trophy or two to bolster his application.
With the club’s Capital One Cup campaign ending prematurely, only the FA Cup and the Europa League now remain, and although he will probably not field a full strength side on Sunday, Benitez will certainly be treating the FA Cup seriously.
Prior to Wednesday’s draw Chelsea had performed very well away from home under Benitez, recording six wins and just one defeat, and scoring an average of three goals per match. They have often thrived in the additional space afforded to them away from Stamford Bridge, where they have failed to score on four occasions during his reign to date.
But Benitez will know that Brentford are unlikely to offer space in any degree of abundance on Sunday, and that his team will have to work hard for opportunities.
In theory it is an ideal match for Demba Ba, the strong, powerful striker signed from Newcastle at the start of the January transfer window who scored twice against Southampton in the Third Round. But Ba has played a number of matches recently and could well be rested in favour of Fernando Torres, a player much less likely to thrive in the expected conditions.
Brentford v Chelsea Betting Tips
Brentford are expecting to pocket in the region of £300,000 from television money and gate receipts related to Sunday’s tie and regardless of the result that is a significant amount that should help fund their bid for promotion to the Championship.
Chelsea are likely to field a weakened side but still have the requisite quality to overcome opponents two leagues below them. The tight, enclosed conditions at Griffin Park mean it is unlikely then will run up a score as large as their 5-1 win away to Southampton in the Third Round, but we still expect them to be comfortable victors.
- Back Chelsea -1.5 on an Asian Handicap @ 11/13 with Pinnacle.
- There has been a fairly even split of first booking honours at Griffin Park this season, with away sides just marginally coming out on top nine to eight. We do, however, think that Brentford will be keen to make an early impression on their more exalted visitors and therefore suggest backing the first team booked to be Brentford @ 8/13 with William Hill.