Heading into today’s contest against mid-table Brighton and Hove Albion, Maurizio Sarri called it “maybe [the] most important in this season at this moment”. And while every “next game” is always the “most important game” (RIP Conteisms), what Sarri was concerned about was Chelsea’s mentality, which has been a constant theme of his for some time.
With the away losses to Wolves and Spurs still festering — Chelsea’s recent away form hasn’t made for good reading (1 draw, 2 losses) — this was a test of character.
As it turns it, it was Chris Hughton who should have been worried.
Chelsea came out with the energy and application that Sarri has been demanding, while Brighton were on a stroll. The Blues dominated the first hour and scored twice. But overall, it was far from perfect and Maurizio Sarri wasn’t satisfied.
“I think that we could have won better. We played very well for 60 minutes. We conceded a goal when we were in full control. In my mind it was clear in that moment that we had to suffer in the box, we are not a physical team. I tried with the substitutions to have more of a physical presence.”
The second half was a different store, especially after Florin Andone came on for the hosts in the 60th minute. Brighton became a lot more aggressive, they put Chelsea under pressure, fouled liberally and clawed back a goal. Chelsea couldn’t really find a response, having fallen into a level of complacency — “most dangerous lead”, that 2-0!
“When we have the feeling to be in control of the match it is dangerous for ourselves. The first situation in our box in 30 minutes, I think we were a bit unlucky. When we are sure to be in control of the match. Complacency? I don’t know.”
Then again, part of of the reason Chelsea conceded the goal was because of a kit issue with Ruben Loftus-Cheek that delayed his substitute appearance (in place of Pedro). In the two minutes it took for Ruben to tape over the yellow bottom-sock to match the rest of the kit, Brighton got their goal.
Sarri on the Loftus-Cheek substitution: says he wanted it to happen two minutes earlier, but during the delay Chelsea conceded. Is clearly a bit frustrated about that.— Dan Levene (@danlevene) December 16, 2018
Wearing two different socks — foot plus calf sleeve, sometimes homemade, sometimes designed to be that way — is a modern trend that’s usually not a big deal, but this time it was. The fourth offical delayed Ruben’s entry and Sarri was upset about it.
“I was frustrated in that moment with the fourth official as I wanted him to come on and that’s when we conceded the goal.”
-Maurizio Sarri; source: Football.London
But Ruben played well, once again showing his Premier League credentials. He consistently presented Brighton’s defenders with problems and slid one lovely low cross across the face of goal that Eden Hazard missed by a hair.
Loftus-Cheek on for Pedro. He's either started or come on in Chelsea's last six games in all competitions #cfc— Liam Twomey (@liam_twomey) December 16, 2018
The win, combined with Arsenal’s loss at Southampton, strengthens Chelsea’s hold on fourth place, with the gap now three points. But there’s no rest ahead.
The Europa League may be in abeyance after the group stage, however, we’re still alive in the League Cup and if we beat Bournemouth on Wednesday we’ll be through to the semi-final and one step closer to a first-ever trophy for Maurizio Sarri.