A superb late leveller from Fernando Torres earns Chelsea a reprieve at Brentford. Clint Dempsey continues his recent scoring streak as Spurs crash out the cup at Leeds, while Liverpool also taste defeat at Oldham, as Luis Suarez nets once again for Brendan Rodgers’ defeated side.
Brentford 2 Chelsea 2
In defence, John Terry’s return to the starting XI gave Rafa Benitez the chance to drop Cesar Azpilicueta to the bench and field Branislav Ivanovic at right-back. With Ivanovic mainly fielded as a centre-half since Benitez’s arrival, Azpilicueta has started 10 of the 11 league matches under his compatriot but as the options increase, his game time may no longer be guaranteed, given the Serbian’s versatility – Ashley Cole continues to look the only worry-free route into Chelsea’s back-four. Petr Cech missed out through injury, with Benitez admitting post-match the keeper and David Luiz need to be assessed prior to the midweek match at Reading…
“We have to see how Petr Cech and David Luiz are tomorrow, and see how they progress. Cech has a niggle and David Luiz was doing well, but with the games so close together we need to be sure on him. “
Juan Mata’s owners will be delighted he was handed just 45 minutes and with Eden Hazard suspended, Benitez took the decision to field Ryan Bertrand in the attacking midfield three; at 3.9 in Fantasy Premier League (FPL) he could be an intriguing short-term option though given Benitez’s obsession with rotation, his acquisition would come with risk attached. It should be noted that both Marko Marin and Yossi Benayoun are available as options for Benitez to help fill the void left by the suspension of Hazard – Marin started Sunday’s match, while Benayoun was back from injury and kept on the bench.
Benitez’s decision to hand Fernando Torres the lone striker role will have Demba Ba’s Fantasy owners smiling – the tactic of alternating forwards is likely to see the Senegalese man return to the first XI for Wednesday’s trip to Reading. Ba’s late introduction saved the Blues blushes – 2-1 down with eight minutes remaining, he needed less than 60 seconds to make an impact, supplying the assist for Torres’ equaliser after Oscar had netted earlier in the second-half. The upcoming replay, however, merely adds another match to Chelsea’s schedule and hands Fantasy managers another worry over rest and rotation – a topic Benitez again touched on post-match:
“I changed [Juan] Mata at half-time and he made a big difference. We were controlling the game and I thought I would bring Demba on for the last 10-15 minutes to try to do something. We were on top of them, but sometimes it’s good if you change things, and Demba did a great job on the left….It’s very difficult, we are playing a game every three days. How can you train the day before? How can you train the day after? We have to use the same players all the time, so hopefully the players that are injured will be able to come back, and hopefully the players at the Africa Cup of Nations will be back sooner rather than later. The positive was the reaction of the team, but the negative is that we are using some players too often. We are a strong team but we have problems because certain players are playing 90 minutes all the time, it’s not easy.”
Leeds 2 Tottenham 1
Jermain Defoe’s omission due to a hip problem allowed Clint Dempsey to lead the line at Elland Road. While the US international continued a run of form which has now harvested five goals in his last five games, Andre Villas-Boas confirmed post-match he expects Defoe to return for the midweek trip to Norwich, meaning Dempsey is likely to shift back to the role in “the hole”. There were also reports claiming that Defoe will eventually require surgery on the injury that has plagued him for a large part of this season.
Elsewhere in Sunday’s lineup, both Tom Huddlestone and Gylfi Sigurdsson were afforded rare starting berths but were hauled off just before the hour mark after failing to impress. At the back, there were changes aplenty as Villas-Boas welcomed Jan Vertonghen back after the Belgian missed out against United due to illness last Sunday. Brad Friedel came in for the rested Hugo Lloris in goal and Benoit Assou-Ekotto continued his comeback from a knee injury by getting the nod ahead of Kyle Naughton at left-back – the latter switched to the opposite side of defence but was hauled off after 66 minutes. With Michael Dawson given the day off and William Gallas still recovering from a calf injury, Steven Caulker partnered Vertonghen but his dire display is likely to boost Dawson’s chances of returning for the Carrow Road clash – after the game, the Spurs boss would only say:
“My reflections on our defending I don’t really want to make public”
Oldham 3 Liverpool 2
Brendan Rodgers continued with his recent 4-2-3-1 formation, as Raheem Sterling, Luis Suarez and Fabio Borini lined up behind lone striker Daniel Sturridge. Jordan Henderson tucked in alongside Joe Allen in the double-pivot, while Rodgers made three changes to the defence that played against Norwich last time out – Martin Skrtel returned after being dropped for the Canaries match and Sebastien Coates and Jack Robinson were both handed rare starts. Suarez continued his superb season by notching yet again and with the visitors 3-1 down, Rodgers introduced Steven Gerrard and Stewart Downing from the bench just before the hour-mark as the Reds reverted to 4-3-3. Despite a late Joe Allen goal (courtesy of a Skrtel assist) Liverpool crashed out, with stand-in keeper Brad Jones failing to impress, along with many of the backline. Post-match, a bitterly disappointed Rodgers was scathing of some of his players’ displays:
“They [young players] will never get comfortable. You can’t get comfortable at Liverpool and they’ll never be allowed to. They’ve come up against a different type of football and you’ve got to stand up and be counted. They did that against Mansfield, but today we were just slow out of blocks, got punished and it wasn’t until the final 40 minutes that we played at the tempo and intensity I’d expect…It’s great to put young players in, but you’ve got to have personality and today our young players disappointed me.”
Rodgers also went on to laud the display of Gerrard and defended his decision to start with his skipper on the bench. The midfielder has been in superb form in the league of late, producing returns in nine of his last 10 appearances, but Rodgers explained the reason behind his omission from the first XI:
“Steven Gerrard came on with Stewart Downing and it [became] a different game. For 35 minutes we were terrific, but it was too late then as we were 3-1 down. At 3-2 we had some chances, but it wasn’t good enough. I can’t rely on Steven for 70 games. He’s been absolutely incredible. He shouldn’t be expected to have to come and win games on his own every single game. He came on and gave real impetus to the team. His quality was there to be seen, he hit the crossbar and gave us that real drive.”
With Downing also preserved on the bench, he will be expected to start at the Emirates in midweek, casting doubt on Sterling’s chances of a starting role. Jammie Carragher and Dan Agger could also be in line for recalls having been partnered together in the 5-0 victory over Norwich. It remains to be seen whether both Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique will recover from injury to stake their claims – the latter would seem the less likely to be in contention having missed the last three league outings with a hamstring complaint.