BRIGHTON, England – If Graham Potter had any doubts about what awaits him when he returns to Brighton on Saturday, that was dispelled when the players first appeared when home fans swapped the Beatles classic “Hey Jude” for “Hey Judas”. “
It was a disciplinary and deeply embarrassing for the 47-year-old, who abruptly left Brighton last month after a very successful three-year spell to replace Thomas Tuchel at Stamford Bridge. Saturday’s 4-1 defeat was his first as coach for the Blues and at the same time the first victory for his South Coast successor, Roberto de Zerbe, at the sixth attempt.
Brighton was brilliant, and clearly excited about the prospect of making a point to Potter that the move he took didn’t elevate him to untouchable. And it wasn’t just about Potter. Mark Cucurella, the defender who made a summer transfer request to join Manchester City before Chelsea paid a higher transfer fee (£62m) to take down his man, was booed for the first time. Worst ensued when he delayed taking an early entry throw.
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In total, seven coaches, staff and players have traded Brighton for Chelsea so far, an influx of talent that has clearly angered the home team’s 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 charge when they finished fourth from bottom in the Premier League, probably the third worst team.
“There is a lot of money made through player sales and there are a lot of good players on the pitch. I hope for them the next manager will do a good job and that’s great for them.”
What should bother Potter the most is that this was largely a defeat of his own making. Chelsea’s 3-4-2-1 system looked more like a 3-2-4-1 given the advanced spread of Christian Pulisic and Raheem Sterling at full-back, a tactic that managed to win the Champions League on Tuesday at FC Salzburg but faltered poorly here. .
Brighton were sharper and more decisive from the start, enabling them to overcome weak Chelsea pressure, maneuvering Sully Marsh and Pervis Estopenan time after time into individual situations against the wider pair of Chelsea’s three players. This system offers high risks and rewards, and Chelsea were not without threat in the first half. But it was so easy to play against them eerily that Brighton seemed to score almost every time, scoring three goals in the first 45 minutes of a Premier League game – a feat they never achieved under Potter.
Report: Brighton 4-1 Chelsea | Premier League table | Upcoming matches
Chelsea improved a lot in the second half as Potter turned into something close to 4-1-4-1 with Ruben Loftus-Cheek at right-back, but the damage was already done.
‘responsibility for [the wing-backs] “It wasn’t to defend against their back but I understand that whenever you do something and it doesn’t work, you look a bit foolish,” Potter said. I have to accept that and deal with it and do it better.”
And as good as Brighton was, the feeling that Chelsea shot him in the foot grew from the start. They had already asked Thiago Silva to clear the line twice by the time they were only five minutes late.
Silva gave the ball away cheaply and suddenly Kaoru Mitoma was driving towards the Chelsea area. He made a clever pass by Leandro Trossard, who kept his composure to turn keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga and curled low into the net with Cucurella helpless on the goal line.
“Potter, Potter what’s the score?” Cheerful home fans sang in response.
Two goals followed. First, Loftus-Cheek hit one knee and inadvertently converted a corner kick in the 14th minute of March to his own goal. Then, in just one of many instances where Brighton carried their opponents over wide areas, Estupinan descended to the left and made a pass. Trevoh Shaloba, on the slope, could only turn the ball into his net.
It rained from the stands as supporters continued to target Potter who stood with his arms folded on the touchline, assuming unbelievable how his side was giving in: “You get kicked out in the morning.” The cheers were getting louder with every replay of Shaloba’s mistake on the big screens.
But Chelsea had chances of their own even before the break. Brighton goalkeeper Robert Sanchez saved well from Conor Gallagher, before Pulisic fired a long shot into the goal. Sanchez then brilliantly deflected Gallagher’s header from Raheem Sterling’s delivery on the left wing.
But the risk-reward ratio was not in their favour. Potter has given up on the 3-4-2-1 formation in his previous league games and had to do the same here. Loftus-Cheek was a driving force for his improvement in the second half, but it was abundantly clear how much Chelsea was wasted by Reece James, who was sidelined with a knee injury.
Three minutes into the second half that also started with Edvard Mendy replacing Kepa in goal due to a foot problem, Loftus-Cheek went ahead and found a pass for Gallagher, who sent in a superb cross that Kai Havertz headed hard past Sanchez.
Chelsea began dictating the procedures but Sanchez worked sporadically. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, instead of Sterling, forced the Spaniard to stop diving to his left 20 minutes before the end of the match. Havertz ran into the penalty area after more good work on the right from Loftus-Cheek. But it was Brighton who finally laughed – literally – as Mendy saved from substitute Julio Inchizo only for Pascal Gross to force the net on the rebound.
Prior to this match, Chelsea had conceded only four goals in 810 minutes under the leadership of Potter. Brighton scored four goals in one afternoon, which ended in a victory for Potter, who caught the eye of the storm, and was warmly embraced by many of his former players when the fight was over.
It was a rare exhilarating moment on a dreary afternoon. Potter should quickly make this into history, just as Brighton did for him.