Chelsea were held to a goalless draw by Brighton on a frustrating evening for the Blues at Stamford Bridge in which chances were few and far between for both sides.
Brighton set up to press the Chelsea players relentlessly and we never managed to find a rhythm or space in the opposition half with which to carve out opportunities.
Our best chance to fell to Kai Havertz in the first half, when a loose ball following a tackle in the box fell to the German, but his effort was palmed away by goalkeeper Robert Sanchez.
For Brighton's part, they came closest with efforts outside the box after winning the ball in our half, but with the exception of one Danny Welbeck effort which struck the post, Kepa Arrizabalaga was equal to anything they could manage.
The visitors were reduced to 10 men after Ben White picked up a second booking, but it was well into injury time and too late to influence the game, as Brighton remained defensively sound. It is perhaps telling that no other side has now had more 0-0 draws in the Premier League this season than the Seagulls.
A draw was enough to send us above West Ham United and back into the top four on goal difference, though, ahead of our meeting with the Hammers on Saturday.
The fixture against Brighton saw the club focusing on our equality and diversity work. At Chelsea, we are clear that there can be no place in our game, nor our society, for racism, antisemitism, or any form of discrimination.
The match took the opportunity to highlight the achievements of the club’s wide-ranging initiatives to tackle discrimination in all its forms, as well as look to the future as we develop and build on our No To Hate campaign, which was launched in March.
The squad wore the No To Hate logo on their kits and the logo also featured on the centre circle banner, pitch-side LED boards and lamp posts around Stamford Bridge.
Tonight’s match also coincided with the Premier League’s weeks of action as part of their No Room For Racism campaign, which makes it clear that any form of discrimination is unacceptable in football or the wider society.
Thomas Tuchel made five changes to his team following our FA Cup semi-final victory over Manchester City. Kepa Arrizabalaga kept his place as goalkeeper, while Andreas Christensen and Kurt Zouma come in for Cesar Azpilicueta and Thiago Silva ahead of him, alongside Antonio Rudiger in the back three.
With N'Golo Kante on the bench, Mason Mount dropped in alongside Jorginho, who captained the side, in midfield, with Mateo Kovacic still unavailable through injury. Reece James and Marcos Alonso were the wing-backs, with Ben Chilwell making way for the Spaniard.
Blues frustrated at the start
Kick-off at Stamford Bridge was delayed by 15 minutes due to the two teams arriving late at the stadium, but when it did begin there was an early territorial struggle, as both teams attempted to position themselves high up the pitch. Brighton’s resulting high press caused us a few issues during those opening exchanges as we found it difficult to stamp our authority on the game.
Tuchel wasn’t happy and following some hastily shouted instructions to our players, we lifted our tempo and Kai Havertz was close to getting the match’s first chance as we approached the 10-minute mark, racing on to a chipped pass over the top, but Brighton goalkeeper Robert Sanchez was off his line just in time to snuff it out.
When Alonso was close to getting on the end of a Hakim Ziyech cross at the back post shortly afterwards, it became clear the Seagulls’ high press would allow us to create opportunities if we could beat it and break quickly.
That was proving no easy task against hard-working Brighton, although Christian Pulisic was looking the best outlet to do so with his bursts forward on the ball and the American was next to have an attempt at goal after a clever turn on the edge of the box, but was off balance and couldn’t control his left-footed shot.
Havertz was the first to really test the goalkeeper in the 20th minute. Mount won the ball back deep into Brighton’s half and fed the ball through for Ziyech. Ben White slid in to take the ball off the Moroccan’s foot but could only send it as far as Havertz, but the German’s first time effort was palmed away by Sanchez.
Brighton keep harrying
While we enjoyed more possession as the game went on, the relentless pressing from Brighton as soon as we moved the ball into midfield was making it very difficult for us to play, and some of that frustration came to the surface as two Chelsea players were booked in the space of a minute. First Jorginho had his name taken for tripping Yves Bissouma trying to win the ball near the Brighton box, and then Zouma was penalised for a pull on Danny Welbeck just outside our own area.
There was a scare just before half-time as a looping deflection on Bissouma’s shot from outside the box left Kepa helpless, but thankfully it just cleared the crossbar and dropped on the roof of the net. Brighton finished the opening 45 minutes strongly, even if we had looked the most likely to score over the half as a whole. However, the key question for the second half seemed to be whether we could find a way to nullify Brighton’s press or if they would run out of steam trying to maintain that workload.
There was no sign of the Seagulls dropping off when the second half began, as they continued to show what a well-drilled team they are. Brighton weren’t offering much going forward, but every time we tried to build an attack of our own, our midfielders and forwards found themselves disappearing under a swarm of yellow shirts when in possession.
With just over half-an-hour to go, there was a notable increase in urgency among the Blues as we looked to find the breakthrough, with Rudiger and Christensen looking for opportunities to charge forward out of defence to try and overload Brighton, but when that provided Mount the space to bring the ball forward at pace down the middle, Pulisic was muscled away from his pass by White, allowing the keeper the collect.
Pushing for the breakthrough
Tuchel decided changes were needed to force the issue as time ticked on with little in the way of chances. The German introduced the direct running of Callum Hudson-Odoi and Timo Werner in a double substitution. Hudson-Odoi replaced Alonso, taking the right wing-back spot with Reece James switching to the left. Werner briefly went to centre-forward in a straight swap for Havertz, who had struggled to get on the ball all night under such close attention, before moving wide when he was joined on the pitch by our third sub Olivier Giroud.
The visitors weren’t prepared to let us have things all our own way, though. Following a couple of long shots, which Kepa could watch wide without concern, he was more worried when Zouma was caught in possession and Adam Lallana charged into our box, but the Brighton man provided a let off when he failed to find the target.
That high press was causing us trouble again, though, and when Jorginho was next to be dispossessed we had the post to thank for keeping out Welbeck, before Kepa saved and held well down low from another Lallana effort.
We did our best to calm things down and return to the ascendancy for the last 10 minutes. Our most promising chance fell to Giroud when he met Hudson-Odoi’s low cross at the near post, but from a position we have seen him score from so many times, on this occasion he couldn’t get his foot around the ball to put the shot on target.
Pulisic had a hopeful high drive saved at the near post, and Brighton were reduced to 10 men in injury time when White received a second booking for bringing down Hudson-Odoi. However, the closing minutes passed without us being able to find a way past the tireless Brighton defence, meaning we had to settle for a point in a game where we had the best of the possession, while struggling to create chances.
We are back in Premier League action on Saturday as we travel to the London Stadium to face West Ham United at 5.30pm. Then it's back to the Champions League, with the first leg of our semi-final away at Real Madrid next Tuesday evening.
Chelsea (3-4-3): Kepa; Christensen, Zouma, Rudiger; James, Jorginho (c), Mount, Alonso (Hudson-Odoi 67); Ziyech (Giroud 76), Havertz (Werner 67), Pulisic
Unused subs: Mendy, Chilwell, Emerson, Azpilicueta, Gilmour, Kante
Booked: Jorginho 34, Zouma 35
Brighton (3-4-3): Sanchez; White, Dunk (c), Webster; Veltman, Gross, Bissouma, Burn; Trossard (Lallana 59), Welbeck (Moder 86), MacAllister (Maupay 73)
Unused subs: Steele, Jahanbakhsh, Alzate, Izquierdo, Propper, Zeqiri
Booked: White 73, 90+2
Sent off: White 90+2
Referee: Stuart Attwell