A Blue Up North previews Chelsea’s home tie against Brighton.
Chelsea finally return home to Stamford Bridge after a 3 and a half week absence this Wednesday evening as they take on Brighton and Hove Albion in the Premier League. Since their previous home match, The Blues have strolled in to the quarter finals of the Europa League with a comfortable win in Kiev, have played unconvincingly in the defeat at Everton and in their victory at Cardiff and have endured another international break.
Chelsea may be on a run of only 1 defeat in their last 9 matches, but their performances have been far from assured. Their last 4 Premier League outings have seen long spells of uninspiring, ineffectual play. Quite frankly their football at times has been far from the level befitting the club and the supporters are getting increasingly disillusioned with what they are seeing. However, Chelsea have edged closer to the holy grail of a top 4 place and now only lie 1 point behind arch rivals Spurs who are currently in 4th spot.
It does seem strange that the team who have progressed so far in Europe, played in 1 Wembley cup final and are so close to their main target and yet there is so much unrest regarding the state of the football being played. There is clearly a lot wrong with the playing side of the club, but there must also be some things that are very right.
The team do spend long spells of matches playing fairly dire football with very little cutting edge. However the players can still turn it on at times, and like in the final few minutes at Cardiff, can gain results and points they probably didn’t deserve. An excellent first half at Everton sadly produced no goals and was punished in the second half as the team capitulated. A late equaliser saved a point, and some blushes, at home to Wolves after the team’s lack of a cutting edge was punished by a quality counter attacking display from their opponents.
A home tie against a side who have recently gone off the boil is surely a chance for Maurizio Sarri and his team to put on a good showing for the whole 90 minutes. No one is expecting a complete demolition, but a solid, committed and commanding showing for most of the match would go a fair way to lift the mood around the club as we head in to the business end of the season.
The manager did not start Sunday’s match at Cardiff with Eden Hazard or N’Golo Kante. Both of these are expected to return for the visit of The Seagulls. But the biggest question surrounding Sarri’s starting line up is all about Callum Hudson-Odoi. The young winger has not only impressed when called upon by the club, but also in England’s European Championship qualifiers. However he took no part in the victory over the weekend and will surely now receive his first Premier League start. The supporters certainly deserve to watch the combined skills of both Hazard and Hudson-Odoi.
Otherwise, Olivier Giroud could well return in place of Gonzalo Higuain, Andreas Christensen get a start in central defence and Emerson Palmieri recalled at left back. However, despite his influential substitute’s appearance on Sunday, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and his ongoing back issues are likely to be used as impact substitute once again.
The Blues have still only lost once at home in the Premier League so far this season, but have drawn 5 of their 15 matches at Stamford Bridge. Those missed points can be crucial and the team should be set up and ready to ensure they don’t drop any points against Brighton. Chelsea have conceded the joint fewest goals at home in the league and we must not forget being resilient and diligent in defence will be key to Chelsea gaining the win. Especially with their recent struggles in attack.
Brighton have only won 3 of their away league matches this season, the 3rd of which was on their last trip, against their biggest rivals Crystal Palace. Chris Hughton’s side are reliant on scoring from set pieces and their top goal scorer is 35 year old striker Glenn Murray. They have suffered from inconsistency this season, but have been slowly descending down the table over the last couple of months.
They are now flirting with the relegation zone, but play in the FA Cup semi final this on Saturday. Hughton will have some big decisions to make with regarding resting any of his players in readiness for the weekend. Murray could well be one such player and the manager has Florin Andone back available after injury.
Eden Hazard inspired Chelsea to victory at the Amex Stadium back in December and despite their recent issues, The Blues should be ready to take advantage of their visitor’s focus being turned with their upcoming trip to Wembley. The 3 points will propel them above Manchester United in to 5th place after their defeat on Tuesday and will close the gap to Arsenal. Spurs host Crystal Palace in their new stadium at the same time and will feel the pressure mount with a Chelsea victory over Brighton.
That would be a welcome scenario for the Chelsea supporters who have endured some unimpressive circumstances in the last few months. And with another home match up next in the league, The Blues could be building a little momentum in their quest for a top 4 finish.
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue