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Off-colour Chelsea see title hopes dwindle with stalemate at Brighton

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Brighton & Hove Albion's Adam Webster celebrates with team-mates after scoring his side's equaliser. Photo: Tony O'Brien/Reuters

Brighton & Hove Albion's Adam Webster celebrates with team-mates after scoring his side's equaliser. Photo: Tony O'Brien/Reuters

Brighton & Hove Albion's Adam Webster celebrates with team-mates after scoring his side's equaliser. Photo: Tony O'Brien/Reuters

The Premier League title might have been all but conceded by Thomas Tuchel after defeat by the champions on Saturday, but this was a night which asked even more profound questions of a Chelsea team who often found themselves outplayed by the upwardly mobile Brighton and Hove Albion.

Draws and near misses are becoming something of a drag for Graham Potter too, although the expectations are not quite as great on a man whose side are playing some extremely accomplished football on a tighter budget.

Much more of a worry for Tuchel whose players might well have lost this game and seem to find elusive the rhythm and intensity that took them all the way to Champions League win in May.

They have dropped 16 points from the last 10 games and sit third in the Premier League, without a win in their last four matches - and uncomfortable questions being asked of the manager.

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Albion's Adam Webster celebrates scoring their first goal as Chelsea's Thiago Silva reacts

Albion's Adam Webster celebrates scoring their first goal as Chelsea's Thiago Silva reacts

Albion's Adam Webster celebrates scoring their first goal as Chelsea's Thiago Silva reacts

When Tuchel really needed a goal with 10 minutes left, he substituted the £97m man Romelu Lukaku - and with some justification. Of course, all of his players have big fees attached and egos as well but none of them are currently living up to the billing.

Brighton came from behind, a first-half goal against the run of play from the otherwise forgettable Hakim Ziyech, and equalised on the hour amid a splendid period of pressure through a header from captain Adam Webster. No Lewis Dunk and no Shane Duffy but a very solid defensive performance from Brighton and once again plenty of sparkle from Tariq Lamptey.

How the European champions got away with that first half, Tuchel may wonder for some time. They were outplayed by Brighton at what Tuchel would like to consider Chelsea’s own game. A splendid half of fizzing passes, well-drilled balls down channels for the runs of Lamptey in particular, and strong, confident pressing from the home side. They could just not put a decisive boot or a head on the chances that would have changed the game.

Instead it was Ziyech who scored one of those goals that seems to be beyond the goalkeeper before anyone has got used to the idea that there is a chance to be had. It was a beautiful strike from that sweet left foot but it should have never have been allowed to go in at the near post of Robert Sanchez. Indeed, the Spanish goalkeeper had covered enough ground to be in a position to save it but his left glove was not in the right place or strong enough to stop the shot.

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Perhaps the greatest impetus to the attack had been N’Golo Kante’s decision to run beyond the ball having played the initial pass to Ziyech and then get it back again to build the play. When Kante got the ball back from Ziyech, Chelsea had suddenly gained enough ground to make the shot on goal a reasonable proposition. For the most part of the first half they scarcely had enough of the ball in attacking positions to think about an attempts on goal. Yet it was Brighton who finished the half with zero attempts on goal.

They did create chances, most notably when Steven Alzate scooped a ball over the Chelsea defence and Danny Welbeck ran beyond. He did not even make a contact when he tried to guide the ball past Kepa Arrizabalaga with his left foot. In the Chelsea technical area, Tuchel was growing ever more exasperated with whatever it was his team were not doing - and there was lots to choose from in that regard.

They lacked the intensity to push back on Brighton’s press, and the best player in the first half was Lamptey. This former Chelsea academy boy played as a conventional right- winger, staying wide to get the ball and occasionally dropping inside to take the direct pass through the lines in the inside right position.

He ran the ball out courageously from the edge of his own area at one point, and later would leave Jorginho in his wake and wishing he had not attempted to match him for pace. It was a pity for Potter that there was no one in the area who might be able to finish what Lamptey could deliver.

There were lots more wild misses from Brighton after the break including a cross from Lamptey that came off Neal Maupay and bounced in the wrong direction. Maupay, a second-half substitute, had been part of Potter’s get-an-equaliser master plan but as he and Leandro Trossard had prepared to come on, the equaliser had arrived anyway.

Brighton deserved every part of Webster’s free header, which he ran on to leaving Marcos Alonso, who looked like his designated marker, admiring the view somewhere else. The corner for the goal that Webster headed in had come from the right: a cross from Marc Cucurella and a deflected shot from Alexis Mac Allister swatted around the post by Arrizabalaga.

No such luck for Arrizabalaga when Webster powered the corner in. Brighton looked lively after that and Potter pushed on with his substitutions nonetheless. Maupay had a couple of chances, including the one that went in the wrong direction and another through ball that struck his heels.

Chelsea were on the ropes with 20 minutes to play and an intriguing grapple had turned into an open, reckless shoot-out for the winner.

Tuchel waited until the 80th minute to make a change and then went for all three. Lukaku was first off followed by Ziyech and Jorginho. Timo Werner and Kai Havertz joined the attack and Mateo Kovacic came into midfield. There was no way through a Brighton team who had come too far to blow it at the end.

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]


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