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Pat Nevin: How Brighton are similar to Chelsea and why opponents are changing when facing the Blues

Ahead of this evening’s Premier League outing at the Bridge, Chelsea legend Pat Nevin speculates on whether Thomas Tuchel will make changes to his side, and whether his opposite number will buck a recent trend…


There are some weeks you sit down with a blank piece of paper, well a blank screen anyway, and think what on earth am I going to write about this week? It is one of those weeks at Chelsea.

Apart from beating Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-final to set up a final against Leicester City, and getting through to the Champions League semi-final with Real Madrid where old boys Thibaut Courtois and Eden Hazard are waiting in white for us when we get there. Oh yes, and there is that whole charge for the top-four thing going on, while former boss Jose Mourinho is looking for work again. It was never a good fit Jose.

There was some vague chat about a new league you might have heard about and West Ham, our closest challengers, are waiting at the weekend for what could be a classic shoot-out at the London Stadium. Oh yes, and there is a game on tonight as well.

But apart for all that, what have the Romans ever done for us, I mean what on earth is there to talk about?

My head is spinning, but it is match day and it is time to concentrate on what is right in front of us and that is Brighton. The last thing we need today is to have our minds elsewhere when there is a fantastic chance to turn the screw in the chase for the top four. There are of course a few concerns, and it is the usual ones, who to play and who to rest?

It hasn’t always been easy and it certainly hasn’t been obvious to see who the manager is going to choose from one game to the next. This time, considering the glut of matches and the fact that our next few opponents in the league do not have close to as many games in such proximity as we have, there are some huge calls to be made.

Tonight might well have to be the time to seriously shuffle the pack even if every point in the league is critical right now. The concentration levels have been incredible lately, but physical and mental tiredness can creep in unexpectedly, just as it did against West Brom. This is why I think a few more changes might be made tonight.

Brighton themselves are hard work to play against because they have more than a few similarities with Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea. They are very good in possession and believe in playing from the back under almost any circumstances. The most glaringly obvious similarity however is that recently they have been playing a version of a 3-4-3 that is not unlike our own and it has looked impressive.

We haven’t often faced up against this mirror image system lately, so it will be intriguing to see how it goes for us, especially as there might be a few rested at the start.  

Having said that, the players will still be buzzing from the performance at Wembley on Saturday. So many questions have been asked by so many of the big names in world coaching, such as Klopp, Mourinho and Ancelotti, but this was the biggest examination from the man who is the biggest name in world coaching at the moment, Pep Guardiola. So far, our new gaffer has answered them all.

The decision by Pep to play both Fernandinho and Rodri seriously surprised me as they rarely play with two holding, deeper and primarily defensive midfielders. Thomas and specifically this system seemed to have got into his head, and from that, the heads of his players. This is what can happen even to the best, if you set up a team against them that hardly ever gives away goals but is supremely dangerous on the break.

We have a team and a system that looks just as comfortable with the lion’s share of possession and wearing opponents down, as we do as a team basically set up to break at pace, and we don’t even have to change the personnel to do this. This isn’t an easy trick to pull off, but it is one of the reasons why other coaches are changing their ideas and second guessing themselves as soon as they face Chelsea.

Have a look at the Porto game in the second leg. They almost always play a 4-4-2, especially when they are in trouble. Against the Blues in the second game in Seville, even though he had the players at his disposal, Sergio Conceicao could not bring himself to play his normal way. Like others he found himself adapting to try to counter Chelsea and in doing so, he weakened his own team.

Graham Potter might just stare Thomas down as he seems pleased with his version of 3-4-3, but what if one of our pacy attackers isolates one of their defenders? When you play three defenders against three attackers this can happen, what then? Suddenly you have a big decision or two to make as a coach. I look forward to seeing what the deep-thinking Potter decides to do.

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