Football Features

“This bodes well for Chelsea’s title hopes” – Five things learned as the Blues battle to a win over Brighton

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:44, 14 September 2020 | Updated: 9:48, 30 March 2021

In an interesting night of football, Chelsea beat Brighton 1-3 at the AMEX Stadium.

The Blues went second in the Premier League with an emphatic win that was actually less than impressive in terms of the performance. Here’s what we learned:

1. England’s right-back revolution

England have an absurd group of players available at right-back. There’s Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Aaron Wan-Bissaka as established names, but there’s so much more coming through and we saw two of them here tonight.

First, the game’s outstanding player was Tariq Lamptey. A former Chelsea youngster, Lamptey was absolutely ridiculous despite being just 19 years-old. A decent defender but an outrageous attacking presence whose combination of pace, skill and audacity made him absolutely unplayable on the night. Lamptey had the most tackles (3), interceptions (3) of any Brighton player and was a constant thorn in the side of the Blues. He was routinely blitzing whatever was put in front of him and pushed Brighton forward on his back.

But though Lamptey got an assist for Leandro Trossard’s goal, the man who settled the game was Reece James. At just 20, James is becoming one of the most bright and complete full-backs in the division (and arguably the reason Lamptey left). He can handle defending better than Alexander-Arnold and is a better attacker than Wan-Bissaka. He’s so balanced. It was James’ thunderstrike that changed the course of the game and set Chelsea on the way to a comfortable win. He picked the ball up 25 yards out and with no one marking him, he unleashed an absolute buzzsaw into the top corner.

James won the game for Chelsea with his first Premier League goal, but the real winner on a night when two right-backs dominated was Gareth Southgate. He knows that even if injury strikes down Walker, Trippier, Alexander-Arnold and Wan-Bissaka he still has players as incredible as Reece James and Tariq Lamptey to call on. England’s right-back revolution could change the game for the Three Lions.

2. Werner is a one-man counter-attack

Timo Werner made his debut in English football tonight and after just a couple of minutes his threat level was already intensely evident. For the first hour of the match Brighton were the dominant side and Chelsea were reduced to playing on the break, yet they were able to do this and still carry a threat because of Werner’s frankly terrifying pace.

The German was a one-man counterattack for Chelsea, making intelligent runs at absurd pace, giving the Blues a constant target in attack. His runs were too hot to handle for the Brighton defence and inevitably led to a goal when Werner was brought down by Matty Ryan for a penalty. He continued to menace Brighton, nearly scoring on a few occasions despite picking up a knock on his knee when winning the penalty.

Werner’s performance will give Frank Lampard enormous joy because it will mean that, even in games when Chelsea aren’t playing well, the German’s dynamism will always give them a chance. And if they take that chance, as they did tonight, it sets them up for a big win.

3. Potter project perseveres

Graham Potter is a coach associated with playing football the right way, but last season Brighton ended with just 41 points and only just avoided the real heat of a proper relegation scrap. And today for all their good play against Chelsea they were still beaten, so should Potter need to worry about his future or his method?

Absolutely not.

Brighton were sensational tonight, they thoroughly dominated Chelsea for the best part of an hour in almost every phase of play. They ended up suffering defeat but look at the goals: a penalty, a rocket out of nowhere and a deflected effort from a corner. Yes at the end, with a 1-3 lead, Chelsea began to strut and carve them open but in general the Blues were just raiding on the break. And had Brighton taken their gilt-edged chance to make it 2-2, who knows what could have happened?

Chelsea had their £100m+ attacking unit out there and Brighton handled them. Chelsea had a £80m midfield out there and Brighton played around them. The Seagulls were organised and confident in what they were doing; losing Adam Lallana to injury early on but continuing to boss the game. Yes in the end they were found wanting for quality, but Potter’s project is bridging a colossal gap in that regard and must continue to be trusted and believed in.

4. Waiting For Thiago Silva

The Chelsea defence looked like it needed a leader tonight. To be fair it’s often looked like that, with defenders capable of passing tests of athleticism or technique but failing when asked tactical questions. Tonight we saw Andreas Christensen and Kurt Zouma look a bit wobbling at times when defending Brighton’s attack, and had Lewis Dunk converted that unmarked header five yards out the game could have been different.

That Dunk was unmarked on that free-kick sums up just why Chelsea need a defensive leader. They signed Thiago Silva for this purpose but as of yet he is unable to play for the side and they badly need him to both be fit and also settle in instantly in order to stabilise and lead their rickety backline and protect Kepa Arrizabalaga from himself.

5. Chelsea’s quality overload

Chelsea didn’t play well away to Brighton, yet Chelsea won through sheer individual excellence. The calmness of Jorginho’s penalty, the ferocity of James’ strike, and even the technique displayed by Zouma to hit the ball on the volley the way he did.

Chelsea didn’t even have their £60m left-back on the field, nor their creative genius Hakim Ziyech. Both missed the game. So did defensive leader Thiago Silva. Star-forward Kai Havertz, the £62m man, did start and was absolutely horrible. Mason Mount and Ruben Loftus-Cheek were drifting through the game. Only Reece James and Timo Werner were really at it, but that’s all the Blues needed.

The Chelsea squad is overloaded with so much quality that they don’t even have to play well collectively, because at some point one of their many superstars will show up and win them the game. This bodes incredibly well for Chelsea’s title hopes, because having to play well in order to win is exhausting and can lead to you losing winnable games (see: Man City last season). Being able to win whilst playing poorly is what led Liverpool to stampede all over the Premier League last season, and it will help Chelsea try and take that same title.