Chelsea will hope to continue building momentum going into the end of the year when they face Brighton & Hove Albion on Wednesday.

The festive period in England continues to rumble on despite the threat of the coronavirus and mounting injury crises. In the Premier League, Gameweek 20 of the 2021/22 season is underway, with the action on Wednesday pitting Chelsea against Brighton & Hove Albion at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea were the pace-setters in the Premier League for a long time, sitting at the top of the table for several weeks. However, the Blues have dropped points aplenty in December, which, coupled with Manchester City’s superb run of form, has left Thomas Tuchel’s charges trailing the Premier League champions by six points. However, they returned to winning ways this past weekend with a hard-fought win over Aston Villa.

On the other hand, Brighton’s strong start to the campaign is a thing of the past, and the Seagulls have tended to drop points unnecessarily game after game. However, like their hosts, Graham Potter’s men returned to winning ways in the Premier League, with Brighton grabbing a 2-0 win over Brentford courtesy of Leandro Trossard and Neal Maupay’s goals.

The corresponding fixture last season was a drab affair that saw Chelsea and Brighton play out a goalless draw, with Ben White being sent off late on. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.

Team News & Tactics

Chelsea

Thomas Tuchel has greeted a mixed bag of updates on the team news front ahead of the visit of Brighton & Hove Albion. On Wednesday, the Chelsea manager could be bereft of the services of as many as six first-team players.

The latest setback comes in the form of Thiago Silva’s absence, with the Brazilian defender missing out due to a hamstring injury he sustained this past weekend against Aston Villa. In addition, N’Golo Kante could be unavailable due to the recurrence of the knee injury he recently overcame.

As for the rest of the possible absentees, confusion continues to reign supreme over the status of Timo Werner and Kai Havertz. However, Ruben Loftus-Cheek might be in contention to feature in some capacity after making significant progress in his recovery from an ankle complaint. Meanwhile, Ben Chilwell is a long-term absentee and will likely miss the remainder of the season.

Kante’s absence means Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho pick themselves as the central midfield duo, with Reece James and Marcos Alonso continuing as the wing-backs amid the lack of alternatives at Tuchel’s disposal. At the back, Andreas Christensen is in line to come into the side in place of Silva, with Cesar Azpilicueta and Antonio Rudiger starting alongside him in the central defensive partnership.

The three centre-backs will provide cover to Edouard Mendy in the Chelsea goal. At the opposite end of the pitch, Romelu Lukaku should lead the line for Chelsea against Brighton following his impactful performance off the bench versus Aston Villa. Mason Mount and Christian Pulisic will likely supplement the Belgian striker, with Callum Hudson-Odoi and Hakim Ziyech being backup options.

Probable Lineup (3-4-2-1): Mendy; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rudiger; James, Jorginho, Kovacic, Alonso; Mount, Pulisic; Lukaku

Brighton & Hove Albion

Unlike his counterpart in the Chelsea dugout, Graham Potter does not have any new roster issues hampering his preparations ahead of the trip to Stamford Bridge. However, the Brighton & Hove Albion manager continues to miss a few key players, with a total of six players unavailable on Wednesday.

The major absentee for Brighton is captain Lewis Dunk, who is nursing a knee injury that will keep him out for a few more weeks. However, Potter will be able to recall Yves Bissouma after he served a one-match ban last time out against Brentford.

Potter is sweating over the fitness of Leandro Trossard, but the Belgian international should be able to shrug off a minor hamstring injury to be available. The rest of the absentees for Brighton are Shane Duffy (COVID-19), Jeremy Sarmiento (hamstring), Jason Steele (COVID-19), Joel Veltman (hamstring) and Jurgen Locadia (COVID-19).

In Dunk’s absence, Adam Webster will be responsible for being the defensive leader, with Dan Burn pairing up with him at the heart of the Brighton defence. Out wide, Marc Cucurella and Chelsea academy product Tariq Lamptey will be the two full-backs. In goal, there is no looking past Robert Sanchez.

Up ahead in midfield, Bissouma will sit at the base of the three-man unit, with Adam Lallana being the workhorse in the middle of the park. Enock Mwepu will likely be the third man in the middle of the park. The Zambian will look to charge forward at every opportunity. Finally, Alexis Mac Allister should replace Trossard in the final third, partnering with Danny Welbeck and the in-form Neal Maupay in the attacking unit.

Probable Lineup (4-3-1-2): Sanchez; Lamptey, Webster, Burn, Cucurella; Mwepu, Bissouma, Lallana; Mac Allister; Welbeck, Maupay

Key Stats

  • Brighton & Hove Albion have won only one of their 16 matches against Chelsea in all competitions, a 2-1 home victory in the FA Cup third round on 14 January 1933. It was the first competitive fixture between the clubs. The Seagulls have lost their seven matches at Stamford Bridge by an aggregate score of 14-0.
  • Chelsea’s tally of 41 points is their highest at the halfway stage since 2016/17 when they went on to win the title. The Blues can win consecutive Premier League matches for the first time since they won all four top-flight games in October.
  • Brighton have lost only one of their eight Premier League away fixtures this campaign, but that run includes drawing five of their past six games on the road.
  • Chelsea have dropped points in three of their last four Premier League home games, while they needed a 94th-minute penalty by Jorginho to beat Leeds United in the other.
  • Neal Maupay is one short of equalling Glenn Murray’s club record of 26 Premier League goals in Brighton colours. Maupay can become the first Brighton player to score in four consecutive Premier League appearances.

Player to Watch

Romelu Lukaku

Embed from Getty Images

It is fair to say that Romelu Lukaku has not enjoyed a dream return to Chelsea by any means. The Belgian striker has scored a few important goals here and there, but he has yet to showcase his levels at Inter Milan in the last two seasons. An untimely injury and COVID-19 infection have not helped his case either.

However, if the performance off the bench at Aston Villa is any indication, Lukaku is determined to set the record straight. And another influential display against Brighton & Hove Albion could set the tone for a turnaround in fortunes, at a time when Chelsea desperately need a focal point in the final third. A big beckons for Lukaku.

Prediction

Chelsea 1-0 Brighton & Hove Albion

Brighton & Hove Albion might have clinched a clean sheet against Brentford, but the absence of Lewis Dunk had a telling effect, with Robert Sanchez bailing them out on Boxing Day. A more clinical Chelsea side might not let the deficiencies at the back go unpunished, even though Sanchez will have a lot of say in matters at the back.

However, the sheer upscale in the quality of the attacking unit should make enough difference, with Chelsea likely to score at least once. At the opposite end, the Blues should hold on to clinch a crucial clean sheet, with the central midfield pairing of Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic playing a key role in ensuring their team’s dominance in the game. The Hard Tackle predicts a 1-0 win for Thomas Tuchel & co.

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