The year 2020 begins with our first league draw away from home this season, with an early Chelsea goal in the lunchtime kick-off on the South Coast cancelled out by a brilliant Brighton equaliser in the final 10 minutes.
Both goals originated from set-pieces. Cesar Azpilicueta celebrated his 100th game as Chelsea captain with our goal, scored from close range after a corner, and although clear-cut chances were rare after that, Frank Lampard’s side were looking value for a win on a day generally considered to be all about just finding a way, given the fatigue accumulated in many of the legs over Christmas.
Brighton had found it hard to make their normal game plan work, in the first half especially, and when they did manage to play the ball forward with a body or two in our defensive third, the likes of Toni Rudiger and Kurt Zouma were generally too quick and powerful. Kepa was called upon to make just one difficult save in the first half.
But our control on the game was slipping as it moved towards the end. Tiredness may have been a factor. Kepa kept the Seagulls out with another good save but he was powerless to stop Alireza Jahanbakhsh’s spectacular strike following a corner, and our keeper needed to be sharp once more to prevent all the points slipping away.
For his first team selection of 2020, Lampard was able to call again upon the services of Christian Pulisic and Reece James, who were over injuries, to help him freshen up his side as we approached the end of the busy festive period.
Jorginho, who came on to such good effect at Arsenal three days earlier, was also back in the starting line-up as the back-four that finished that game was retained. Zouma, partnering Rudiger in central defence with no Fikayo Tomori today, played his 100th Chelsea game.
The overall shape was 4-2-3-1 with Mason Mount in a central position behind Tammy Abraham, a change that helped with Lampard’s belief that, as he stated before the game, Brighton could be pressed high up the pitch and the ball won if our front players showed enough energy, given the home team’s method of playing out from the back. And so it proved early in the game.
However, it was Brighton who went close to scoring first. Steven Alzate, an addition to their side today, shot across goal and just wide via a touch off a Chelsea player.
We survived the corner that followed but Brighton did not do the same when the Blues won a corner-kick of our own at the other end on nine minutes. Willian took it, Zouma won a towering header which allowed Abraham a shot. Although Brighton’s Aaron Mooy was on the post to block that, Azpilicueta was on hand to complete the job. 1-0 up inside the first 10 minutes. Ideal. Corners have not been our best way to goal this season but this one worked. An opposition one would cost us later on however.
The Seagulls’ problems continued when their big left-back Dan Burn went off with a fractured collarbone, having come off worse against James as they challenged for a header which the Chelsea youngster won.
We could well have gone two goals up on 28 minutes after Abraham had won the ball off Davy Propper but rather than take the option of unmarked Willian to his right, he went for goal himself. The shot deflected wide off one of the covering defenders. When you have 14 goals to your name in the first half of the season, it is no surprise our centre-forward fancied his chances of going it alone.
Most of the remainder of the opening half was scrappy. Pulisic tried to make something happen for the visitors with a couple of runs at the heart of the Brighton defence but when during the second one he was well tackled, the Seagulls flew forward quickly and it took a good one-handed save by Kepa to preserve our lead for half-time. Pulisic made space and flashed a shot wide in added time before the whistle blew.
Brighton had their best minutes of the game leading up to the interval but that did not prevent them making a change at half-time and moving to a 4-2-3-1 shape too. It improved their performance.
Pulisic continued to test the home team, with one shot saved and another fired wide. Kante also had a shot stopped by Mat Ryan after one of the best moves of the game.
There were 10 minutes left on the clock when Kepa was called into action for his second serious save, getting down low to keep out Aaron Connolly’s bobbling effort after a free-kick had been played into our box.
However three minutes later the Seagulls did find a leveller from a set-piece. Lewis Dunk won the first header from a corner and as it dropped, substitute Jahanbakhsh volleyed in quite superbly with an overhead kick.
Substitute Callum Hudson-Odoi could still have snatched the dropped points back but shot just over and there was still time for Brighton to have one more chance, Kepa doing very well to save with his leg. The home team had their tails up but when they squandered a free-kick right at the death, the spoils were shared.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Kepa; James, Rudiger, Zouma, Azpilicueta (c); Kante, Jorginho; Willian, Mount (Kovacic 72), Pulisic (Hudson-Odoi 65); Abraham.
Unused subs Caballero, Lamptey, Christensen, Emerson, Batshuayi.
Scorer Azpilicueta 10
Booked Zouma 69, Kovacic 82, James 90+4
Brighton (4-1-2-1-2): Ryan; Montoya, Webster, Dunk (c), Burn (Bernardo 22); Propper; Bissouma (Connolly h-t), Alzate; Mooy (Jahanbakhsh 68); Trossard, Maupay.
Unused subs Button, Duffy, Stephens, Gross.
Scorer Jahanbakhsh 84
Booked Dunk 71, Maupay 90
Referee Graham Scott