Under the dark clouds of the Super League, there were some football games being played in the previous days. Their results at the time seemed irrelevant, especially when the threat of a breakaway league was looming in the shadows.
Now that the clouds relatively faded away, the results and performances could be brought back to the light. Liverpool played their best 45 minutes in a long time, Ryan Mason lead Tottenham to their first win under the interim manager, and Manchester City painted a portrait of how to control a 10 vs 10 football match.
In between those games, as “fourty” Chelsea fans blocked Fulham Road demonstrating against the Super League, Brighton managed to clinch a point from Chelsea’s den.
“They have a very unique style of playing which makes it difficult to create chances. They defended very very strong, almost man-marked over the whole pitch and that created a lot of problems for us, and we couldn’t find the answers to it.”
Thomas Tuchel’s post match words summarized it to an extent. He praised Brighton more than once, especially focusing on their defensive display.
Pressing Chelsea’s double pivot, while minimizing the threat of their front five using different methods has been the common approach used against Chelsea. Manchester United, Everton and Porto were close but a Tuchel tweak, a defensive mistake and individual quality gave Chelsea the upper hand in those games.
Brighton built on Everton’s defensive approach while adding their own input. Similar to Everton, Brighton’s shape out of possession was 5–3–2. Graham Potter used Pascal Gross and Alexis Mac Allister to mark Chelsea’s double pivot. Behind them was Yves Bissouma who controlled the zone behind the midfield duo, in addition to his other duties.
The Malian midfielder moved up to mark any Chelsea player dropping to support the build up, keeping the close marking on Chelsea’s double pivot as it is.
He also picked up any Chelsea player trying to drop in between the lines behind Brighton’s midfield. In this example Hakim Ziyech tried to drop behind Brighton’s midfield, but Bissouma was aware and managed to intercept Reece James’ pass into the Moroccan.
Another task that Bissouma had, was to pick up one of Chelsea’s double pivot when Gross or Mac Allister moved up to press Chelsea’s center backs. Here Gross moves out to press Kurt Zouma, triggering a signal for Bissouma to pick up Mason Mount while Mac Allister was marking Jorginho.
One of Chelsea’s methods to maintain possession and sneak out of Manchester City’s pressing scheme — which was based on the Manchester United pressing scheme used against Chelsea — on Saturday was circulating the ball towards the wing-back, as one of the double pivot moved forward into the space in midfield. This wasn’t possible against Brighton as when Gross moved out to press Chelsea’s center backs, Bissouma picked up Mount.
So when Chelsea’s wing-back, Marco Alonso here, tried to find Mount again there was no space. There was Bissouma, who intercepted the ball before Chelsea won it again and had to reset back to Kepa Arrizabalaga.
That reset takes us through the corridors of Stamford Bridge to our next point. Kepa’s pass through Brighton’s midfield to Ziyech, with Bissouma on the other side, should have meant that finally Chelsea managed to penetrate Brighton’s block.
However, breathing down Ziyech’s neck was Adam Webster. The defender moved all the way up beyond the center circle to stick to his marker, forcing Ziyech into a bad pass which led to Brighton regaining possession. Brighton’s right and left center backs, Ben White and Webster man-marked Christian Pulisic and Ziyech respectively.
Where Pulisic and Ziyech went, they went. Man-marking Chelsea’s wide players when they dropped in the channels neutralized another form of ball progression for Chelsea.
Here, Ziyech tried to drop into the right channel to aid the smothered Chelsea build up but Webster’s presence forced him to play the ball back, moving Chelsea back to square one.
Another example sees White moving up to intercept the pass played into Pulisic who was trying to drop into the space between Gross and Bissouma.
This scene was common throughout the game, Chelsea’s double pivot man-marked by Gross and Mac Allister…..
….then once Ziyech or Pulisic decided to drop to provide a passing option, Webster or White followed and either forced them to pass the ball backwards or intercepted the ball. In this example Webster intercepted the pass into Ziyech putting Brighton in a situation to catch Chelsea out on the transition.
In the second half, the smothering commenced until Tuchel decided to tweak the shape moving to a 4–1–4–1 as illustrated by the message from Callum Hudson-Odoi when he was entering the field.
Accordingly, Brighton responded by moving away from the 5–3–2 out of possession to a 5–1–3–1. Gross continued marking Jorginho, but the main aim of the switch was for Danny Welbeck and Adam Lallana to provide support for Dan Burn and Joel Veltman out wide against Chelsea’s wing play.
As per Understat, Chelsea only managed 0.81 xG against Brighton. Their second lowest tally under Tuchel in the league after the German’s first game against Wolves.
A big portion of that figure is based on Kai Havertz’s chance in the first half. That chance, originated from a Brighton mistake rather than a Chelsea coordinated attack. In the ninety minutes played, Brighton shackled Chelsea using a template inspired by previous opponents.
Beneath the dark clouds, no wonder that a guy named Potter showed his magic.