Mauricio Pochettino decided to field at least 4 viable left backs in his starting XI and managed to get one of our best competitive results (results, not performances) not only this season, but going back to our 3-1 wins against either Leicester or Bournemouth from last season - let’s ignore the facts that Bournemouth would end up finishing lower than us in the league last year and Leicester would end up relegated. With only one win against Brighton in our last seven outings, especially after all the transfer business between the two clubs’ players and staff, this was certainly much needed.
While normally the League Cup is lower on the list of priorities, we should note our current position in the Premier League and the avenue that this does offer into European competition - via a qualifier in the Europa Conference League. Considering those already eliminated from the competition, it may actually be our best chance to see midweek games in Europe next season.
The first few minutes started with a flurry of chances for Chelsea, with Mikhailo Mudryk, Nicolas Jackson, and Ian Maatsen all having chances to score or assist from inside the box. Those chances resulted from either high pressing on Brighton’s back line or quick passing movement of the ball between our players and within their half via some smart runs off the ball. That joy was short lived, because at about the 2:30 mark, Robert Sánchez played a poor pass to a pressed Lesley Ugochukwu and our passing accuracy plummeted as their overall possession grew.
Possession of the ball is what Brighton want, so our poor rate of 14.4 passes per defensive action played a large factor as to why we were so slow in the first half. There were too many sequences like that in the 23-26th minutes where Brighton actually had 40 consecutive passes, most in our half, and Chelsea players were just chasing the ball without much structure or cohesion in the press or defense of their passes. With a decent defensive record this season and rarely a time we were being outplayed, there is no excuse for Brighton to have 15 occurences of 10+ passes in a sequence. Chelsea managed just 5.
Chelsea 1 : 0 Brighton— markstats bot (@markstatsbot) September 27, 2023
▪ Pass directness: 32.2 - 29.4
▪ 10+ pass sequences: 5 - 15
▪ Goalkick length: 38.1 - 12.0
▪ Goalkick progr.: 16.9 - 53.8 pic.twitter.com/8u0nod98Wj
Both sides attacked down their left flank for more than 45% of the time, and WhoScored? has us at a whopping 47%, captain Ben Chilwell and Mudryk being our main reasons why. It is likely that was Brighton’s intention prior to kickoff anyway because Kaoru Mitoma is an absolute menace, and proved as such down their left side. It cannot be coincidence that Marc Cucurella, his former teammate and one of the most scrutinised signings from Brighton, happened to be defending that flank. After taking some time to catch his feet, he would redeem himself in the second half, as would the rest of the squad.
Another of our Brighton recruitments, Robert Sánchez, showed precisely why he fell to second choice keeper at Brighton last season against competition from Jason Steele. Brighton are a team concentrated on playing out from the back - of which Moises Caicedo and Alexis McAllister were both previously instrumental. Sánchez has to get better with the ball at his feet after displaying on numerous occasions that simply rushing him causes him to make irrational decisions.
An interesting side note regarding Alexis McAllister and the match official - according to Transfermarkt, the only Premier League match he has officiated was the Liverpool v Bournemouth match, which saw McAllister given a straight red that was later rescinded by the league. As David pointed out in the post-match reaction, the officiating in this match was horrendous - missed calls, missed deserved red cards, and inaccurate offsides rulings were rampant. Nicolas Jackson was easily the most deprived by the officiating decisions, but Broja was ruled offside from within our own half.
The feistiness grew as the match wore on and the official once again proved to be wholly inadequate for the occasion. Chelsea may well have had two goals ruled off for atrocious officiating from the sideline officials. Intervention from VAR may also have had Lesley Ugochukwu sent off, but competent officiating may have had us with a 3-0 win rather than a 1-0, which would have boosted much needed confidence amongst the squad and potentially both of our strikers - such a satisfying return could have done wonders for this squad.
We’ve been waiting long enough, so let’s look at the goal. Our press in the opening phases of the game were what created our initial chances and the same was true for our only recognised goal of the match. After a short goal kick, we smothered their right side and the attacking midfielders were clearly seeking to gather the second ball.
After easily picking up that second ball, all Chelsea attacking players drive toward the box. The faster this Chelsea team play, the better and more threatening they seem to be. Maatsen did very well to move from where he is above to a much more threatening position, all while screaming for it to be played to him. You can still see his arms somewhat raised below.
Maatsen’s pass is perfect for the equally great run of Cole Palmer, and his pass puts Jackson in on goal. The pace at which this attacking maneuver is achieved is exactly what the has been missing, but also what takes time to develop.
The trip to Fulham on Monday will be pivotal in the career of Pochettino. Our record against Fulham is good (19 wins, 11 draws, 2 losses), but the fact that they nabbed four points off of us last season doesn’t sit well. It is time to put in a concerted effort and get a result, regardless of our injury situation, and he has now shown that he is capable of that.
Lastly, allow me to summon some expected stats, because as many have reported, Chelsea’s league position is not necessarily representative of their play. According to Opta, we have underperformed our xG this season by 6.61 with the sixth highest xG (higher than Tottenham, Arsenal, United, etc.) in the league, all while creating 15 big chances and missing on all of them, the most of any club. We have had a higher xG than all of our opponents in head to head matches and only a 6.4 xGA, the third lowest in the league. We should theoretically be doing better, even with the depleted squad, but fortune isn’t in our favour at the moment.
Nicolas Jackson, who is suspended due to accumulation of poor decisions on his behalf resulting in yellow cards, may be a big reason for that - his xG and goal differential are the highest of any player in the league (-2.79.) He was and needed to be great in this game, and perhaps got a little unfortunate with offsides decisions against him. His suspension is certainly unfortunate timing for him considering how well and effective he was, but Armando Broja was a spark when he came on, even in such a short time.
While expected goals or expected position might leave us with a false narrative or even false sense of hope, there is a reason hope was the only thing left in Pandora’s box - hope can be positive if it comes to fruition but even more devastating if it falls short. Pochettino and the rest of us obviously prefer the former, and this positive result should ideally lead us in that direction.