Chelsea extended their winless Premier League run to four games and missed the chance to go second in the table after drawing 1-1 with Brighton.
Thomas Tuchel’s side could have gone above Liverpool with victory at the Amex Stadium, and they went ahead during a first-half lull as Hakim Ziyech hammered home from the top of the area in the 28th minute.
Brighton showed plenty of promise without much end product and looked headed for another result where the scoreline did match their performance. But on the hour, an unmarked Adam Webster – named captain for the evening – nodded home to see the Seagulls go five games unbeaten in the Premier League.
Tuchel gave his assessment of Chelsea’s performance to BT Sport after the game, saying: “We looked tired. We knew they were well prepared, had more time to prepare for this match and you see at the end after the whistle, the stadium celebrated like it was a victory. That is what you face
“We need our full strength to overcome these obstacles, so no blame for the team. We tried everything, but you could see we were mentally and physically tired.
“We need some days off, we have now two days off then two days to prepare for the next match at home against Tottenham. The boys need some days off, there is no other solution.”
The opening 15 minutes were a quiet affair at a chilly Amex Stadium, and Brighton could have taken an early lead. Danny Welbeck flicked the ball into Jakub Moder’s path, but he just sent his effort wide. It took 14 minutes for Chelsea’s first shot as Cesar Azpilicueta’s effort was tipped over the crossbar by Robert Sanchez.
The game continued to meander and out of nowhere, Chelsea took the lead just before the break. It was some neat play between N’Golo Kante and Ziyech on the right before the latter swept the ball under the outstretched leg of Alexis Mac Allister. Sanchez got a hand to it but it fizzed past him and into the back of the net.
Chelsea threatened a second soon after as Marcos Alonso fired a cross in from the left, but Sanchez was there to punch away. Jorginho then skied the rebound into the stands. It was a similar story for Callum Hudson-Odoi just before the break too, who looked certain to score on the angle, but lifted his effort over the crossbar.
Brighton continued to steal possession in a number of promising positions throughout the first half, but they ended it without a shot on target. However, immediately after the break, they fired a warning shot at Chelsea. Welbeck was fed down the left of the area, but lifted his shot over the target.
On the hour mark, Brighton found the target twice – and one was the equaliser. It came from a corner, won by Mac Allister as Kepa pushed his effort away at the near post. The midfielder then delivered the set-piece, with Webster completely unmarked and able to emphatically head the ball home.
Jamie Carragher later said of the defender on Twitter: “Adam Webster’s passing out from the back, with both feet is better than any other English central defender.”
Immediately after the goal, Welbeck made way for Neal Maupay and Brighton kicked into another gear. The substitute striker continued to test the Chelsea defender, while Webster’s Lionel Messi-inspired run into the area saw his squared ball easily collected by Kepa
Both sides continued to push for the winner and Tuchel – fresh from his win as best men’s coach at the FIFA Best awards on Monday – made his intention clear in the 80th minute when he made a triple substitution, bringing on Mateo Kovacic, Kai Havertz and Timo Werner.
Brighton: Sanchez (6), Veltman (6), Webster (8), Burn (7), Cucurella (7), Lamptey (7), Gross (7), Mac Allister (7), Moder (7), Alzate (6), Welbeck (7).
Subs used: Maupay (7), Trossard (6), March (6).
Chelsea: Kepa (6), Rudiger (7), Silva (7), Alonso (6), Azpilicueta (7), Kante (7), Jorginho (6), Mount (6), Hudson-Odoi (6), Ziyech (7), Lukaku (6).
Subs used: Werner (5), Havertz (5), Kovacic (6).
Man of the match: Adam Webster.
But the trio could not inspire Chelsea to victory – Kovacic having the best effort as he lashed an effort wide – as the Blues missed the chance to keep some semblance of pace with Manchester City in first. They remain third on 44 points, one point behind Liverpool who have two games in hand.
Brighton remain in ninth as their recent resurgence continues, and will now have one eye on a potential European push, just three points behind Manchester United in seventh.
Tuchel: Not the moment to be harsh on the team
Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel:
“We have to respect the opponent – it’s very tough to play at Brighton. They played it like a cup game and the noise at the end of the whistle was like if we lost the game and it can very easily give you the impression that we lost, but we didn’t.
“Other teams will struggle to get points here, and even tougher if you’re full strength and not tired. There are some obstacles to overcome here and I refuse to be angry because it’s not about the ambition.
“We were a bit lucky to be 1-0 ahead and you can take advantage to score a second one, but we struggled to show the quality. We know the reasons behind it and we demand a lot from us. But it’s not the moment to be too harsh on the team.”
Potter pleased with Brighton performance
Brighton manager Graham Potter to BT Sport:
“We’re really pleased and proud of the performance definitely. We gave Chelsea a good game. Our performance was full of everything. It’s not easy because they have some top players but the courage of our defenders… The boys played on the front foot as much as they could. They scored from not much but it was a performance I really enjoyed.
“We were well in the game and the boys could feel it was a good performance. Chelsea don’t give much away so you have to work for everything. We could maybe test the goalkeeper more but I thought we had everything.
“Adam Webster and Dan Burn were fantastic. We looked like we were enjoying our football which is important. The players give it everything and when they make a mistake they work hard and recover for each other. As a coach that’s all you can ask for.
“You could see the reaction from the supporters. They paid good money and enjoyed the performance.”