Chelsea took the lead through Conor Gallagher, but weren’t able to hold on in the face of Brighton’s fightback at Stamford Bridge, despite the best efforts of Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Chelsea went ahead with the lead against a high-flying Brighton side with ambitions of European qualification, but couldn’t hold on to it as goals from two first-half substitutes condemned us to a 2-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge.
Things started well when Mykhailo Mudryk, a rare bright spot for the Blues on arguably his best performance for Chelsea so far, caused chaos in the Brighton defence with an incisive run, before teeing up Conor Gallagher. The shot from the edge of the box took a deflection off Lewis Dunk, but it only succeeded in diverting the ball out of the reach of goalkeeper Robert Sanchez.
We weren’t able to hold that lead into the half-time break, though, as Brighton fought back strongly and equalised through Danny Welbeck’s back-post header. The veteran striker had only been on for a couple of minutes following an injury to Joel Veltman when he headed in at the back post, just as he had in last season’s corresponding fixture.
His status as the only Brighton player to score a Premier League goal at Stamford Bridge was ended in the second half, as following a series of impressive saves by Kepa to keep the scores level, he was left powerless by a rocket from 30 yards by Juan Enciso, another player introduced by Brighton in the first half due to injury.
The Blues tried push back and salvage a point from the game, with a series of half-chances in the last 10 minutes, but were unable to test Sanchez further in the visitors’ goal as we succumbed to a 2-1 defeat.
Although goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga was one of the five players who started in Madrid who did so again, this time as captain, two of the defenders in front of him did not. Thiago Silva sat this one out after playing his first game in six weeks against Real and Kalidou Koulibaly was unavailable after picking up a hamstring injury on Wednesday evening. They were replaced by Benoit Badiashile and Trevoh Chalobah.
Wesley Fofana and Ben Chilwell continued, but Reece James was another who dropped to the bench, as did Mateo Kovacic in the middle, with Denis Zakaria and Conor Gallagher coming in alongside Enzo Fernandez.
Raheem Sterling retained his spot in attack, but Christian Pulisic and Mykhailo Mudryk were both introduced to the line-up, with Joao Felix the other player who started in Madrid among the substitutes today.
Bright start by Mudryk
There was a fairly low-key start to the game, although Brighton were the first team to threaten when Kaoru Mitoma flashed a low ball into the box from the left, but Alexis Mac Allister could only divert it into the side netting.
Mudryk’s first opportunity to open his stride and run at the visiting defence arrived just after and it showed plenty of promise. He carried the ball from deep inside our own half, threatening to get beyond the defence after beating Joel Veltman for pace, only for Dutchman to cynically bring Mudryk down with a rugby tackle to receive the game’s first booking.
An encouraging start by our Ukrainian winger continued as he intercepted a pass to Veltman high up the pitch, and Brighton captain Dunk nearly put the ball in his own net as he attempted to deal with Mudryk’s dangerous low cross, sliding in and sending it just over the crossbar for a corner.
However, an open and even start to the game continued, as Brighton striker Evan Ferguson found space on the edge of the box and tried to curl a shot into the top corner, finding the woodwork instead.
Ahead but under pressure
It was Chelsea who took the lead, with more good work by Mudryk central to the opening goal. He picked the ball up out by the left touchline around the halfway line and showed more direct running by dribbling inside and straight at the defence.
As the Brighton players were drawn towards Mudryk, he laid the ball off smartly for Gallagher, whose first-time shot from the edge of the box was deflected off Dunk and looped beyond the reach of Sanchez into the net.
Brighton tried to fight back, with Solly March curling wide from distance and Kepa having to be strong to deal with several crosses into the box, before the Spaniard produced a stunning low save to keep put an effort from the tricky Mitoma, who had weaved his way into a good position inside the box.
Chelsea had Kepa to thank for maintaining our lead again with just under 15 minutes left until half-time, when he produced an arguably even better save. Brighton substitute Enciso, who had replaced the injured Veltman, turned and chipped a cross towards the edge of the six-yard box. Ferguson met it with a powerful header, but Kepa showed great reactions to reach up a strong hand and tip it over the bar.
Level at the break
Brighton weren’t having things all their own way as they chased an equaliser, though, and were lucky to escape more damage when Fofana broke down the right and crossed to the far post, as a breakdown in communication meant the opportunity passed when Sterling tried to head the ball into the path of Mudryk. The visitors were then forced into a second change of the first half, as Ferguson hurt himself in that effort and needed to be replaced by Danny Welbeck.
Deliberate or not, that substitution had an instant impact on the game as Brighton found the equaliser before half-time. Badiashile’s clearance was picked up by Mac Allister in the middle of the pitch and quickly sent to Pascal Gross, who had moved out to take Veltman’s spot on the right. His cross was delivered to the back post where Welbeck was waiting, the veteran striker getting between Chalobah and Fofana to head in at close range just minutes after coming on.
The second half started the same way as the first, with Mudryk’s pace getting him free of his marker on the left, but his cross went beyond everybody in the box and Brighton were soon putting the Chelsea back-line under pressure again, with Kepa saving a pair of efforts from outside the box, although he was able to hold both comfortably.
That pressure, combined with an eye on Tuesday’s visit of Real Madrid, prompted a quadruple change by Lampard, as Hakim Ziyech, Reece James, Mateo Kovacic and Joao Felix were all introduced 10 minutes into the second half; Fofana, Enzo, Pulisic and Sterling making way.
Those fresh legs couldn’t prevent Brighton continuing to threaten around our box, though, and we were fortunate not to concede when a mix-up involving James and Chalobah on the right allowed Enciso to charge into our box with the ball. His shot from a tight angle beat Kepa but not the left-hand post, although Welbeck still looked certain to score from the rebound before skying over the bar with the goal gaping.
Once our substitutes had got up to speed there was a brief resurgance from the Blues, as nice work by James and Ziyech on the right allowed Mudryk to force a double-save from Sanchez and then Chilwell was unable to find the target with a free header. Kovacic then won the ball just inside the Brighton box, but couldn’t get the shot away before Dunk slid in to block.
Blues go behind
Given the game Kepa was having, it was looking like Brighton would have their work cut out to beat him again, but there was little the Spaniard could do when the Seagulls managed to convert their second-half threat into the lead.
James and Joao Felix were both unable to escape up the pitch after wining the ball on the right, conceding possession in transition on both occasions. There still didn’t seem to be much danger when Enciso picked it up in the middle 30 yards out, but the winger unleashed a rasping shot which was still rising as it hit the top corner, giving Kepa no chance.
Now it was our turn to hunt an equaliser, with Mudryk’s bursting runs down the left continuing to look like our best route forward, as first Mount blasted over from the edge of the box and then Gallagher was inches away from a free shot at goal, following a clever one-two with Mount, but couldn’t quite reach the ball.
When James’ low cross fizzed across the six-yard box and evaded Joao Felix and Ziyech at full stretch on its way out for a throw-in on the far side, our chance to get something from the game had passed as Brighton held out through six added minutes.
There is a massive European night coming next at Stamford Bridge, as we host Real Madrid in the second leg of our Champions League quarter-final with a 2-0 deficit to overcome. Kick-off is at 8pm on Tuesday 18 April. We then have a weekend off from Premier League involvement, as our fixture against Manchester United has been postponed due to our opponents’ involvement in the FA Cup semi-finals.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Kepa (c); Chalobah, W. Fofana (James 57), Badiashile, Chilwell; Zakaria (Mount 74), Enzo (Kovacic 57); Pulisic (Ziyech 57), Gallagher, Mudryk; Sterling (Joao Felix 57)
Unused subs: Mendy, Azpilicueta, Cucurella, Aubameyang
Scorer: Gallagher 14
Booked: Gallagher 45, Chalobah 51
Brighton (4-2-3-1): Sanchez; Veltman (Enciso 28), Webster (Van Hecke 86), Dunk (c), Estupinan; Caicedo, Gross; March, Mac Allister, Mitoma; Ferguson (Welbeck 39)
Unused subs: McGill, Offiah, Gilmour, Buonanotte, Moran, Undav
Scorer: Welbeck 42, Enciso 69
Booked: Veltman 4, Dunk 77
Referee: Robert Jones