Axel Disasi’s late header spares Chelsea’s blushes in seesaw Brentford draw

<span><a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Chelsea;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Chelsea</a>’s <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Axel Disasi;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Axel Disasi</a> wheels away after converting <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Cole Palmer;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Cole Palmer</a>’s cross in the 83rd minute.</span><span>Photograph: Chris Lee/Chelsea FC/Getty Images</span>

Six short days after losing at Wembley, Mauricio Pochettino’s position at Chelsea felt its most precarious yet. Away fans were taking his name in foul-mouthed vain, alongside that of Todd Boehly. José Mourinho and Roman Abramovich were regaled to the rafters. If only Chelsea could show anything like the spirit of depleted Brentford.

Cole Palmer, yet again Chelsea’s talisman, supplied the equaliser Axel Disasi headed in. Maybe the pressure is relieved for now, the club’s myriad execs need not jump on an emergency Zoom call just yet but the WhatsApp messages will note the tide is almost fully against Chelsea’s manager.

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“Today is my 52nd birthday,” Pochettino said, expecting few happy returns. “I know very well this business.” He chose – unconvincingly – to blame his team’s torpor on a week that also included Wednesday’s win over Leeds. The problem with that was its resemblance to so many other Chelsea performances under him.

Brentford’s flux is far more understandable; Thomas Frank’s squad has a chronic casualty list, Ben Mee out for the rest of the season to rob the Dane of an entire first-choice defence. “We play a game when we have seven key players out,” said Frank.

That Matthew Benham, their owner, is searching for new investment reminds of the finance required to establish a Premier League club. Fortune and fitness play their part, but so too the togetherness missing in the first half and revived in the second. Yoane Wissa’s overhead kick to put Brentford ahead was a spectacular moment of inspiration, showing a determination to be first to the ball few Chelsea players exhibited.

Contrast such taking of responsibility to Pochettino’s Friday shrug that club hierarchies give him no say in Conor Gallagher’s future. Just the latest chapter in a Chelsea season where dysfunction has been a key theme.

His team continue to mirror that diffidence, able to supply quality like Nicolas Jackson’s excellent opener but also the collapse in concentration that allowed Mads Roerslev to equalise. When Brentford assumed a deserved lead, Chelsea’s previous vigour had flatlined, the tag of “billionaire bottle jobs” felt more pertinent than ever.

“I am responsible, I am the head coach,” Pochettino said, accepting his low popularity rating with another shrug. “I am not worried. We need to accept this relationship. Someone asked me if I feel the love for the fans. We need to build our relationship between the coaching staff, the coach and the fans. You build your relationship by winning games.”

After a minute’s applause for Stan Bowles, one of Brentford’s favourite adopted sons, Gallagher lined up alongside Chelsea’s odd couple of Moisés Caicedo and Enzo Fernández. The second half saw Caicedo berating Malo Gusto, his team’s prime performer, for a misjudged pass when his own showing asked again whatever happened to the player seen at Brighton. Fernández was withdrawn as soon as Chelsea fell behind.

For Chelsea’s first-half lead Jackson received a fine cross from Gusto to head in confidently after a couple of earlier misses. A much-derided striker had his 11th goal of the season and Brentford’s lack of defensive personnel was again looking costly. Their submissively sitting deep jarred in the light of the combativeness that has long been their trademark.

Half-time altered the outlook. Roerslev’s equaliser was drilled home after hunting down a loose ball Disasi and Djordje Petrovic idly watched drop. When Vitaly Janelt struck the base of the post, the old Brentford were riding again.

“They way we battered them in the second half was fantastic,” said Frank. “I am very proud today. This was a proper Brentford performance. We are the best high-pressing team in the league.”

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Chelsea reverted to the shapelessness that so angers their fans, identity abandoned in the club’s metamorphosis into an investment vehicle. The talent is there, the vintage Chelsea qualities of an iron-willed team attacking in waves are not.

As full-time drew closer and legs tired, the home team retrenched, and Palmer’s dilettante cool under pressure in landing the ball where Disasi could barely miss saved his manager’s blushes. For now, at least. Few can expect the next step in Chelsea’s evolution will include someone who has so audibly lost the public.