Chelsea travel south to Brighton on Saturday as they attempt to continue their recent unbeaten run. While an unbeaten run sounds like a good run for the Blues, it’s actually been anything but. Chelsea have five draws in their last five matches in all competitions, including the latest 1-1 draw against Norwich in the FA Cup third round replay, which Chelsea eventually won on penalties.
Complicating matters for Chelsea on Saturday will be the number of unavailable players due to either injury or suspension. It’s well-known that Chelsea have been operating with a smaller squad over the past two seasons, and for Saturday’s match at the American Express Community Stadium, Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas will be absent with hamstring strains and will be joined on the sidelines by Alvaro Morata and Pedro who are both suspended after being sent off for two yellow cards against Norwich.
It will leave manager Antonio Conte short in attack, especially with recent speculation over Michy Batshuayi’s future. Batshuayi is likely to start given that he’s the only recognised striker available for Saturday’s match, but fans calling out for Callum Hudson-Odoi to get a chance should at least be able to see his name amongst the substitutes. Ross Barkley is also in the squad that traveled to Brighton after being ineligible to play on Wednesday night.
Part of the reason for Chelsea’s recent string of draws is because the goals have all of a sudden dried up. Of those five draws, three have finished 0-0 and have often been an exercise of futility in breaking down an opponent that maintains a good shape and is disciplined in defence.
It’s not going to get easier on Saturday because Brighton fit that description perfectly. Manager Chris Hughton’s sides are always organised in defence, and that’s what’s keeping Brighton out of the relegation zone at the moment.
The Seagulls have the sixth-best defence in the Premier League this season, conceding just 29 goals and spearheaded by the duo of Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy and Chelsea will once again have the challenge of breaking down a stingy defensive structure.
Brighton’s big challenge is creating chances, and they have the second-worst attack in the league, scoring just 17 goals this season.
In their last meeting on Boxing Day, Chelsea comfortably handled Brighton at Stamford Bridge in a 2-0 victory via goals from Alvaro Morata and Marcos Alonso. The Blues dominated possession at home and will likely do so again on Saturday, but Brighton will hope that the trio of Anthony Knockaert, Pascal Gross, and Glen Murray will make a difference in this second meeting.
That trio started the match as substitutes but will likely feature from the start on Saturday. Murray, Gross, and Knockaert have combined for 12 of Brighton’s 17 Premier League goals this season, and Gross and Knockaert have also provided a combined six assists.
Chelsea have had moments of shakiness in defence recently and have conceded more chances to their opposition than Conte would really like to see. If Chelsea’s defence sleep on those three and Chelsea’s attack continues to look sluggish and short of ideas, Brighton just might have a bit of hope that they can pick up a big result at home against a side in the top six of the league.