Axel Disasi prevents explosion of Chelsea emotions – but for how much longer?

Axel Disasi scores

In the away end at Brentford was a Chelsea support who have known over the past two decades a sequence of success unprecedented in all but a few clubs – and adjusting to the current reality is proving extremely difficult for many of them.

When Brentford were promoted to the Premier League in 2021, so Chelsea won the second of their Champions Leagues under Roman Abramovich. Yet when Yoane Wissa’s overhead kick gave Brentford a second-half lead, those travelling Chelsea fans were contemplating whether they could even claim supremacy in west London anymore. What followed was not the image for which the private equity billions that funded the single most expensive buyout of a club in the history of the game would have hoped.

They sung for Jose Mourinho and Roman Abramovich, but it was the personal attacks on Todd Boehly and Mauricio Pochettino that were most notable. Boehly has been much less visible as the club’s co-owner than he was when the takeover first happened in May 2022 and it is his consortium partner Behdad Eghbali who is the ultimate power at Stamford Bridge. Yet first impressions last and Boehly’s profile remains the one to whom Chelsea fans turn – in the bad times, and the not so bad times.

Until Axel Disasi came up with an equaliser late in the game it was shaping up to be the kind of defeat that really makes managers uncomfortable.

What the Chelsea fans called Boehly is probably left unrepeated. “F--- off Mauricio” was the chant aimed at the former Tottenham manager, although he said that he could not hear it during the game and was only made aware after the final whistle. The Argentinian, who dolefully mentioned it was his 52nd birthday in his post-match press conference, responded with as much optimism as he could.

“Someone asked me ‘Do you feel the love from the fans?’” he said. “No. What are they going to expect? Between the coaching staff and the coach and the fans you build your relationship through winning games.”

Pochettino hangs his head
Pochettino said he did not hear the Chelsea fans telling him to 'f--- off' - Stephanie Meek - CameraSport via Getty Images

It has been a bruising week for Chelsea, after Gary Neville’s live verdict on Sky Sports went viral in the aftermath of defeat to a young Liverpool side in the Carabao Cup at Wembley. The late winner in the FA Cup fifth round against Leeds United was some respite but it never stops for Pochettino. He is the face of whatever this rebuild at Chelsea is expected to be and he would concede that his players are running out of steam.

Combined with their lack of confidence, the break they have this week, until Monday’s game against Newcastle will be crucial. Pochettino switched to a three-man defence that he abandoned earlier in the season just, he said, to protect his tired midfielder players. He said that Enzo Fernández and Conor Gallagher were both tired but could only afford to substitute the former. It did not say much about his options in reserve.

“We don’t have the possibility to refresh the players in a key area,” he said “That is why I helped them with another centre-back.”

Brentford had been transformed after half-time during which Thomas Frank said that Ivan Toney, Yoane Wissa and Christian Norgaard had all addressed their team-mates. The team has undoubtedly been struggling of late and last Monday’s away defeat by West Ham sounded some alarms. But they pressed higher in the second half and were more direct. Chelsea’s defence was there to be tested.

The second goal in particular, from Wissa, was one of the best of the season. The ball was in an awkward position and only his great athleticism and technique meant that he could execute a perfect overhead kick. Before then the full-back Mads Roerslev had been in the box when Disasi and others failed to get the ball clear. Brentford’s equaliser changed the mood entirely. There had been boos at half-time to the disgust of Frank, who said he would like to speak personally to those responsible.

Yoane Wissa bicycle kick
Yoane Wissa scores acrobatically to put Brentford ahead - REUTERS/Toby Melville

Frank was keen to point out that Pochettino had changed the Chelsea model of play this time. Chelsea had, he said, played a back three in their first four games and then a back four in their last 21. Chelsea also kicked long from the back. “We are the best high pressing team in the league,” Frank said. “If I was [coaching] against us I would go long every time.”

The first Chelsea goal had been well taken by Nicolas Jackson at a moment in the game when it looked like might never score. He had tried going around Mark Flekken earlier and failed notably to finish, later flagged offside. His goal was a header from a good deep cross from Malo Gusto. Disasi’s headed equaliser would be much the same, this time delivered by the left foot of Cole Palmer. Palmer played well in those minutes when Chelsea were desperately searching for an equaliser and Pochettino, among others at the club, will be very grateful it came.