Chelsea collapse as coach Graham Potter returns to Brighton

BRIGHTON, England – If Graham Potter had any doubts about what to expect when he returned to Brighton on Saturday, it was dispelled as the players emerged for kick-off when home fans adapted the Beatles classic “Hey Jude” to “Hey Judas”. “

It was a trying and hugely embarrassing afternoon for the 47-year-old manager, who abruptly left Brighton last month after a hugely successful three-year spell as a replacement for Thomas Tuchel at Stamford Bridge. Saturday’s 4-1 loss was his first as Blues boss and simultaneously the first victory for his south coast successor Roberto De Zerbi at the sixth attempt.

Brighton looked magnificent, visibly excited at the prospect of making Potter realize that the step he had taken hadn’t elevated him to an untouchable level. And it wasn’t just about Potter. Marc Cucurella, the defender who handed in a summer transfer request to join Manchester City before Chelsea paid a higher £62million transfer fee to land their man, has been booed for the first time. The worst followed when he delayed an early throw-in.

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A total of seven managers, staff and players have swapped Brighton for Chelsea so far, a talent flow that has clearly irked home fans.

“I had no expectations,” Potter said. “I have nothing to say sorry, I have nothing to apologize for. I did a good job. You can see the team is a good team. I took over when they were fourth from bottom in the Premier League, probably the third worst team.

“There is a lot of money that has been raised through player sales and there are a lot of good players on the pitch. I hope for them that the next manager will do such a good job and that’s great for them.”

What should alarm Potter more is that the defeat was largely his fault. Chelsea’s 3-4-2-1 system looked more like a 3-2-4-1 given the forward deployment of Christian Pulisic and Raheem Sterling as wingers, a tactic that worked in Tuesday’s win in the Champions League against FC Salzburg, but failed a lot. here.

Brighton were sharper and more incisive from the first whistle, allowing them to beat Chelsea’s nonchalant press, time and time again maneuvering Solly March and Pervis Estupinan into one-on-one situations against the wider pair of three Chelsea centre-backs. This system offers high risk-reward and Chelsea were not without threat in the first half. But they were so frighteningly easy to play against that Brighton seemed to score almost every time they advanced, netting three goals in the first 45 minutes of a Premier League game – a feat they had never achieved under Potter.

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Chelsea improved a lot in the second half as Potter moved to something approaching 4-1-4-1 with Ruben Loftus-Cheek at right-back, but the damage had already been done.

“The responsibility of [the wing-backs] wasn’t to defend against their full-backs, but I understand that every time you do something and it doesn’t work out, you look a little silly. said Potter. « It’s like that. I have to accept that and face it and do better.”

As good as Brighton are, the feeling that Chelsea are shooting themselves in the foot grows from the start. They had already asked Thiago Silva to clear the line twice when they fell behind after just five minutes.

Silva gave the ball away cheaply and suddenly Kaoru Mitoma was heading towards the Chelsea box. He slipped a smart pass to Leandro Trossard, who kept his composure to round goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga and shoot low into the net with Cucurella helpless on the line.

« Potter, Potter what’s the score? » chanted the cheery fans at home in response.

Two own goals followed. First, Loftus-Cheek extended a knee and inadvertently deflected March’s 14th-minute corner into his own net. Then, in just one of many examples of Brighton overloading their opponents in wide areas, Estupinan came in from the bottom left and crossed. Trevoh Chalobah, on the slide, could only return the ball into his own net.

« You’re getting fired tomorrow morning, » rained from the stands as fans continued to target Potter, who stood idly on the touchline, presumably in disbelief at his team’s capitulation. The cheers rang out louder with each replay of Chalobah’s mistake on the big screens.

Still, Chelsea had their own chances even before the break. Brighton goalkeeper Robert Sanchez saved well from Conor Gallagher, before Pulisic headed a volley wide on the rebound. Sanchez then brilliantly fended off a Gallagher header from Raheem Sterling’s left wing delivery.

But the risk-reward ratio was not in their favor. Potter has dropped the 3-4-2-1 form in previous league games and was forced to do the same here. Loftus-Cheek was a driving force for their improvement in the second half, but it was abundantly clear how much Chelsea were missing Reece James, sidelined with a knee injury.

Three minutes into a second half which also started with Edouard Mendy replacing Kepa in goal with a foot problem, Loftus-Cheek pushed and found a return pass to Gallagher, who delivered a nice cross that Kai Havertz categorically headed past Sanchez.

Chelsea began to dictate procedures but only worked sporadically with Sanchez. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, in place of Sterling, forced the Spaniard into a diving save to his left 20 minutes from time. Havertz blazed into the box after another good job down the right from Loftus-Cheek. But it was Brighton who had the last laugh – literally – as Mendy saved from substitute Julio Enciso only for Pascal Gross to force a rebound.

Prior to this game, Chelsea had conceded just four goals in 810 minutes under Potter. Brighton scored four goals in an afternoon, which ended with Potter occupying the eye of the storm, warmly embraced by several of their former players when the heat of the moment had passed.

It was a rare convivial moment on an otherwise dismal afternoon. Potter needs to write this down in history quickly, just like Brighton did with him.

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