And so it is back to the league after FA Cup and Champions League progress. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton preview our Tuesday evening encounter against the Seagulls…
Three days after progressing to the FA Cup final, Chelsea face the reverse of our opening day fixture, the visit of Brighton and Hove Albion, delayed by a few days to make way for the semi-final.
Recovery time after Saturday’s last-four beating of Manchester City has been cut to the minimum, which does not help. No one needs reminding that the last match at Stamford Bridge was a shock 2-5 defeat by West Brom straight after a strenuous international break.
Yet, to the scalps of Ancelotti, Klopp, Mourinho and Simeone (collected without a goal conceded) Thomas Tuchel must now add that of Graham Potter.
It will not be easy: the Bavarian’s most recent victim, Pep Guardiola, described Albion’s boss as ‘the best English manager right now’. While playing with some endeavour, the south coast side also defend defiantly.
It would cap a remarkable eight days if the Blues can leap-frog West Ham and return to the top four of the Premier League after reaching a Champions League semi-final and an FA Cup final.
Chelsea will aim to make it seven out of seven home wins against Brighton since our first meeting in 1983. Previously we won the opening nine against Grimsby and first 10 against Hull.
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Chelsea team news
A performance on Saturday against Manchester City that not only constricted the league leaders, but offered plenty of sting, should imbue the Blues with confidence for the relentless challenges to come.
There are very likely to be changes to the line-up again as this is the third outing in eight days following stressful cup games at home and abroad. Three points tonight would position the Blues in fourth, two points above Saturday’s hosts West Ham.
Edou Mendy should return as the Blues’ number one, although Kepa Arrizabalaga was exemplary at Wembley on Saturday, while Thiago Silva has recovered from a knock but may not be risked again this evening.
That should mean fit-again Andreas Christensen stepping back in, or perhaps Kurt Zouma – who comes with the advantage of aerial dominance against a very tall visiting side. Zouma (with five) is the only defender to have netted more top-flight goals this season than Albion’s Lewis Dunk (four).
Like Christensen, Mateo Kovacic was not ready for the weekend and tonight has also come a little too soon, and the workload of N’Golo Kante, Reece James, Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell, who gave everything in the City win, will be managed over this busy schedule.
We may see rotation upfront too. With a different roll of the dice we could have witnessed a hat-trick for Hakim Ziyech, whose link-up with Timo Werner caught the eye, but Thomas Tuchel has plenty of other options who sat out Saturday’s action, including Callum Hudson-Odoi, Olivier Giroud, and Tammy Abraham, the leading scorer who the Bavarian said is still in his plans.
In-form Christian Pulisic, a sub against City, will hope to find the net in a third successive Premier League game for the first time since November 2019.
Whoever figures they will find the top-flight’s 0-0 specialists hard to break down: only Chelsea and Manchester City have allowed fewer shots on target in the league than tonight’s visitors. Our 3-1 win at the Amex in September included one of just three top-flight goals from outside the box, hit by Reece James.
Graham Potter’s Brighton play very differently to that of his predecessor Chris Hughton, whose safety-first approach never the less contributed to what should be Albion’s longest-ever spell in the top flight. They have earned precisely 33 points from 31 games for the third season running (beginning in 2019), and are six clear of the relegation zone with two games in hand over Fulham.
Potter has reduced the average age of his squad, but blended youth with the experience of Adam Lallana, Danny Welbeck, Pascal Gross and Joel Veltman. However late concessions recently cost them crucial points against Palace, Leicester and Manchester United.
Only seven clubs have taken the lead in more league games than the Sussex side (an impressive 48 per cent) but they have gone on to earn the third-fewest points from a winning position. They are also yet to win when an opponent has netted first this season.
The coach has still exerted his influence, however, especially in tactical flexibility. When deprived of a host of wing-backs earlier this month he used Gross and Jakub Moder in unfamiliar tucked-in roles, asking strike partners Welbeck (a six-yard sniffer) and Neal Maupay (more of a schemer) to split up and hug opposite touchlines to provide the missing width.
In that 3-4-1-2 system, first used from half-time against Southampton, Leandro Trossard was the no.10 deployed to drive through the middle from deep, and Albion enjoyed their biggest win of the season: 3-0 against Newcastle. It also worked for much of the game against Man United, in which they seemed not to receive the rub of the green VAR-wise.
The Seagulls secured a point against Everton with Welbeck playing slightly deeper and Maupay centrally. The set-up allows some of their coveted players including centre-midfielder Yves Bissouma to express themselves, and glean the best from a fit and effective Lallana alongside.
Our former Academy right-back Tariq Lamptey had a wonderful start to his first-team career with Albion but a severe hamstring injury curtailed his progress before Christmas and he is unlikely to figure again this season.
Fifty years and three days on from Derek Smethurst in the Cup Winners’ Cup, another African player scored the only goal of a semi-final in London against Manchester City that steered Chelsea to a final – our fourth return in five years.
Hakim Ziyech, whose swept finish proved the match-winner, could now become the first Moroccan ever to feature in an FA Cup final.
Final few at the Bridge
This is the first of four matches to close the season at Stamford Bridge, and the opposition teams arrive in date order since a home defeat. Brighton have only ever lost at Chelsea’s home, while Fulham have paid 16 visits without taking the points. Next up are Arsenal (eight without success), and finally Leicester (one).
Who else is coming up?
Norwich secured their stake in next season’s Premier League before kicking a ball on Saturday when Swansea and Brentford, in third and fourth, both drew at home.
Second-placed Watford lost at Luton but the Hornets remain favourites to accompany the Canaries into the top flight: with four games to play they are six clear of the Swans.
There could be a top-tier west London derby against Brentford next season if the faltering Bees rise up via the play-offs. If they do, it could complete a trio of promoted clubs with winged mascots.
Game for Equality and No Room for Racism
Tonight’s game has been designated the club’s annual Game for Equality, celebrating the wide-ranging work to tackle discrimination in all its forms.
The persistence of despicable online abuse requires vigilance and Chelsea’s owner Roman Abramovich is taking a personal stand, initiating No to Hate, with wide-ranging measures to improve the culture surrounding football, including continuing to petition social media companies and strategies to increase representation of black and Asian people and other underrepresented communities in coaching and journalism.
Tonight’s match will also highlight the Premier League’s No Room For Racism campaign, encouraging the majority of fans to report abusive activity on social media platforms.
This is match number 32 of the Premier League season, the cut-off point for accumulated cautions. After tonight, players accruing 10 cautions will no longer have a two-match suspension imposed on them. No Chelsea players can now receive a suspension in that fashion.
Premier League fixtures
Chelsea v Brighton 8pm (Sky Sports)
Tottenham v Southampton 6pm (Sky Sports)
Aston Villa v Man City 8.15pm (Sky Sports)
Leicester v West Brom 8pm (BT Sport)
|4||West Ham United||32||16||7||9||53||42||11||55|
|19||West Bromwich Albion||31||5||9||17||28||59||-31||24|