It was just under three weeks ago when Danny Welbeck popped up in the dying minutes at Stamford Bridge to rescue a point for Brighton & Hove Albion against Chelsea. That equaliser confined the Blues to their sixth stalemate of the season as their title challenge began to fade.
Tonight, the two sides go toe-to-toe again, with the Amex Stadium the battleground. Chelsea may be out of the title race as their defeat to leaders Manchester City at the weekend resulted in them falling 13 points behind the reigning champions, but they have still got much to play for and one win in their last five would suggest Thomas Tuchel’s side are sliding.
Chelsea have had their fair share of injuries this season, but when they have multi-million-pound players on the bench, plus one of the greatest academies in football, Tuchel cannot really blame his side’s dip in form on key players being out. The best coaches are always able to adapt to variables such as this and with the amount of money Chelsea have spent in recent years, one win in five is simply not good enough.
The squad mentality could be fragile at this time. Largely due to key players being absent, and perhaps the remnants of Romelu Lukaku’s controversial interview with Sky Italy. Nonetheless, there is too much talent in that team for results to be slipping. Should they drop more points against the Seagulls, results could continue to falter and Chelsea’s season objective could suddenly change from a title charge to simply maintaining a place in the top four.
There will be plenty of incentive for Graham Potter’s Brighton to get a result, too. They appear to have shaken off that barren run earlier in the season where they couldn’t conjure up a win in 11 games. But having lost just one of their last five, including that draw with the Blues, the Seagulls are looking to take flight again.
Potter’s men currently sit in ninth, just five points behind sixth-placed Tottenham Hotspur and if they can build some momentum, and get forwards such as Neal Maupay on the scoresheet more frequently, they could make a strong push for the Europa League or Europa Conference League.
It was most definitely an entertaining contest when these two sides met in December, but heading into this swift rematch, Brighton hold a statistical advantage. The Seagulls have had more shots than Chelsea in each of their last three Premier League meetings. And since detailed shot data first emerged in 2003/04, only Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United have had more shots than Chelsea in four or more consecutive meetings in the competition.
It would be quite a unique accomplishment if Potter’s side were to join this very niche club, but they certainly have the resources to cause problems for Chelsea, as last month’s draw proved.
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