It has been three-and-a-half weeks but the Blues are back at the Bridge tonight. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton hope to see their team fly against the Seagullls…
The business end of the season is very much upon us, and this is the first of four remaining league games at Stamford Bridge, and the second of seven vital matches over 23 days for the Blues.
Visitors Brighton also have plenty to deal with – the threat of relegation on one hand and the possibility of a cup final on the other.
Saturday’s Wembley FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City (and potentially the club’s first final for 36 years) may prey on the visitors’ minds this evening.
If so, their coach will not be best pleased. ’If players aren’t doing well enough now they may not play in the next game,’ Chris Hughton has warned. ‘We have competition for places here and all I’m interested in is performances now.’
The Blues, currently sixth, will simply be aiming to rack up a 10th win on the spin in all competitions against the Seagulls this evening, making it the club’s fourth-longest winning run against an opponent.
Eden Hazard has had a hand in 14 of Chelsea’s 29 top-flight goals at Stamford Bridge (eight goals, six assists), and has scored three times and set up another in his past two matches against Brighton.
— Key stat
Maurizio Sarri’s side now have 60 points from 31 matches, four more than at the same stage of the 2017/18 campaign. Sunday’s match at Cardiff was the first time Chelsea have gained all three points from a losing position since a 4-1 win against the same opposition at the Bridge in September. We have salvaged a draw twice.
The Blues are still without an away league goal in the opening 15 minutes, but conceded in the first 15 minutes after the interval for the sixth time on the road this season, the worst such tally in the Premier League.
On the positive side, the two headed finishes in Wales were numbers 17 and 18 from the 76th minute on by the late-scoring Londoners. Only Liverpool, who extended Tottenham’s poor run of form at the weekend, have netted more times in that time segment.
Match-winner Ruben Loftus-Cheek is now the club’s top-scoring midfielder this season with four, while Cesar Azpilicueta’s goal was his first of the league season and only the fifth by a Blues defender this season. Fourteen different players have hit the net for Chelsea this campaign; only Man United (15) have more.
Going into this evening’s fixtures, the quartet of clubs vying for third and fourth place are separated by three points. Of the four, Chelsea now have the most home games remaining apart from Spurs, who face new and unfamiliar surroundings. It is vital we make the most of this advantage and get behind the team, especially in difficult times.
The European quarter-final head-to-head matches could also prove a distraction for some (with potential semi-finals to come, straddling the end of April). Tottenham clash with Manchester City, Manchester United tangle with La Liga leaders Barcelona and Arsenal face Napoli, second in Serie A, and Chelsea take on Slavia Prague.
Form is the last six matches home and away.
*Can also qualify for 2019/20 Champions League by winning 2018/19 Europa League.
The west London derby disappeared from next season’s Premier League fixture planning last night as neighbours Fulham were beaten at Watford. QPR sacked coach Steve McClaren on Monday after one win in 15 attempts left them 17th in the Championship – four below Brentford – so no one on this side of town is ready to take the Whites’ place.
With Huddersfield’s demotion already confirmed, this is the earliest loss of two teams from the top flight since Ipswich and Leicester went down in 1994/95. Fulham’s demise leaves one relegation place to fill with Cardiff, the incumbents, away at Man City this evening.
Although Neil Warnock’s side are only six points from safety, tonight’s visitors, one of three clubs just above them on 33 points, have more games to play than any rival, with a better goal difference and more favourable home/away split than the Bluebirds or Burnley.
Chris Hughton will be confident of avoiding the second top-flight relegation in his club’s history and Cardiff’s visit to the Amex in a fortnight’s time could be the six-pointer that virtually seals the Seagulls’ survival.
Form is the last six matches home and away.
It was All Fools' Day on Monday. On the same day in 2015, then Championship club Brighton announced they would be introducing goal celebration music at the Amex, revealing in the afternoon that it was an April Fool joke. The irony was that the south coast side went on to score just once in their remaining seven matches – and that was away at Wigan.
Over the coming weeks the FA Cup semi-finalists will be keen to avoid a repeat of their tumultuous 1982/83 campaign. That season the Sussex club reached the final in May 1983 for the first and so far only time in their history, losing to Manchester United after a replay.
Earlier that month Man United’s neighbours had been responsible for sealing the Seagulls’ relegation from Division One, and City now loom ominously large again 36 years later. The Citizens are not only Brighton’s opponents in the last four on Saturday, but will also be their last league visitors at the Amex in May.
This is Chelsea’s 32nd game, the cut-off for 10 cautions resulting in a two-match ban. The next threshold is 15 bookings received before the end of the season, which would incur a three-match ban.
Although he only has five yellow cards against his name this season, Brighton forward Glenn Murray has committed 70 fouls this season, 19 more than the next highest offender, Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrovic, and 40 more than the most whistled Chelsea man, N’Golo Kante. Overall, the Seagulls have fouled 379 times, the most in the league.
THE BEST THAT CAN HAPPEN THIS WEEKEND…
Premier League results and fixtures
Watford 4 Fulham 1
Wolves 2 Manchester United 1
Chelsea v Brighton 7.45pm
Manchester City v Cardiff 7.45pm - Sky Sports
Tottenham v Crystal Palace 7.45pm