THOMAS TUCHEL was forced to eat his words to get Chelsea through another shaky night.
Boss Tuchel claimed there was no way N’Golo Kante would play any part in this match having watched his little trooper play a full 90 minutes on Sunday on his return from injury.
But with his team struggling to see off Brentford and looking vulnerable, the German was forced to turn to the inspirational midfielder with less than a quarter of an hour left and drag him off the bench.
Just four minutes later, a piece of sublime trickery from the irrepressible Frenchman was the cue for Chelsea to finally make the breakthrough, albeit via an own goal.
And five minutes from time Jorginho – another second half sub – wrapped up a far from comfortable victory from the penalty spot.
But the fact Tuchel had to call on a player as old as Kante and still on the road to recovery from a knee problem, underlines that Chelsea are still not on solid ground.
Covid has struck in the camp. Three otherwise fit players ruled out last night while they served isolation
Injuries too are playing a part. But there is also a sense that Chelsea are weathering a storm at present.
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Even so, Tuchel did stick to one of his promises last night. That he would consider throwing in some of the next generation of Chelsea players to try to help his team through a difficult spell.
Teenagers Xavier Simons, Jude Soonsup-Bell and Harvey Vale were all handed their debuts and two of them last an hour before it was time for the big boys to take over.
Despite the makeshift look of the starting line up, it was a familiar face who kept Chelsea on level terms in the first half.
Three times stand-in keeper Kepa pulled off point blank saves when the defenders in front of him were caught cold, which is becoming a worrying trademark.
The first was after 12 minutes when striker Yoane Wissa aimed a cushioned header straight at him when a more powerful approach might have got more reward.
Twenty minutes later, the Spaniard did enough to stop the danger from Pontus Jensen, even though he could not hold the ball.
Five minutes before the break, Rico Henry outsprinted rookie Simons down Brentford’s right and squeezed off a shot at a tight angle which Kepa pushed clear.
Chelsea looked composed when on the ball but decidedly shaky under pressure.
With such a rejigged line up Tuchel can point to the inexperience in his side for the mistakes when in fact they can look back on their debuts with some pride.
Especially midfielder Harvey Vale. Tigrish and hard to knock off the ball, he was a big asset and looks promising – to the extent that he stayed on when fellow youngster Jude Soonsup-Bell was subbed at the break.
Tuchel’s experiment with the kids was to buy time and rest more experienced legs.
But as he watched his team continue to ride their luck, he was forced to turn to his big guns in an effort to get over the hurdle and into the semi finals.
Just past the hour, he wheeled out Mason Mount and Reece James.
Both players are only 22 but are established England internationals and men in the eyes of a manager desperate for a win on a tricky night.
Simons and Vale made way and Chelsea took on a more traditional appearance.
James immediately made his presence felt. Smashing a free kick from the left straight at goal, to be met by an equally powerful punch from Fernandez.
Brentford boss Thomas Frank responded with the introduction of Ivan Toney, back after a Covid-enforced lay off and midfielder Christian Norgaard.
And Kante, 30, was clearly the key to Chelsea’s late win.
Twisting and turning on the edge of the box, he took on two defenders and slipped the ball wide to James.
His cross was then turned into his own net by unfortunate Pontus Jansson.
From then it was only downhill for The Bees, semi finalists in this competition last season.
Five minutes from time, keeper Fernandez, who had been largely untroubled up to then, left his arms out and upended sub Christian Pulisic, who went down.
Jorginho calmly slotted home the spot kick that put Chelsea into the last four and keeps them alive in the fight for five trophies this season – just.
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