Chelsea have had an intense schedule since the beginning of December and it wasn’t helped by an unneeded FA Cup replay ahead of their Premier League meeting with Brighton. They managed to triumph to the next round, but it took extra time and penalties which will have further fatigued the players. This is a great time to play the champions and the home side have to look for a positive result. Home advantage will be a huge positive and they should approach this fixture with no fear. At times this season, Chris Hughton has been too conservative and that is partly responsible for their poor goal return. That needs to change and quickly.
Brighton would have expected to be facing a battle to survive in their first season in the Premier League. They are currently in 16th position, but the gap to the bottom three has narrowed in recent weeks. The Seagulls are only three points clear of danger and they are likely to be fighting at the foot of the table until the final weeks of the season. They have yet to make any January additions, despite the clear need for a new striker. The next few weeks will be crucial in shaping the future for the club and a good result this weekend will give them the positive momentum that they desperately need.
Antonio Conte had a superb first season in England as he won the Premier League and took Chelsea back into the Champions League. This season is far from over, but the Italian will be disappointed by their struggles in the league. They are already 15 points behind Manchester City and their chances of retaining their title are close to zero. Considering the dominance that they showed last season, that is a troubling decline. Their manager will allude to his small squad, as he has had to deal with more matches. However, that is partly his own fault as he has chosen to loan a number of good players out. The Blues have now failed to win any of their last four matches in all competitions, scoring only one goal during that time.
- Only bottom side Swansea City have scored fewer goals than Brighton. The Seagulls have hit the back of the net on only 17 0ccasions. This needs to be addressed if they are to stay in the division.
- Chelsea registered their third consecutive 0-0 draw last weekend against Leicester City. This was something that they had previously never done in their history.
The Brighton centre-back has been very good during the last few weeks and has been one of the best players for the club this season. As stated above, the Seagulls have an excellent defence and their ability to keep other teams out is a major reason why they are currently out of the bottom three. They will need to maintain that impressive organisation if they are to steer clear of trouble. It would be by no means a disaster for the club to be relegated, but it would be a backwards step and one that they may not recover from. Dunk is good reader of the game and often anticipates what the attacking team is trying to do before they do it. His aerial precense coupled with his ball-playing skills have allowed him to adapt quickly to the Premier League and there have been some calling for an England call-up. Although that may seem a long shot, he is the complete package and if he continues to show consistency, there is no reason why he can’t represent his country. This weekend, he will need to be at the top of his game.
The Spanish international has been a forgotten figure this season, as he has barely been spoken about and struggled to deliver regular attacking contributions on the pitch. He has got one goal and four assists, which isn’t bad for a central midfielder. However, a player with Fabregas’ ability would be hoping for more. The second half of the season could be an important one for the midfielder as he will want a place in Spain’s team at the World Cup. Chelsea need him to have more influence in 2018, as they have been reliant on Eden Hazard to create and that can make them predictable to play against. Their attack lacks confidence at the moment and that is shown by a single goal in their last four matches. Although he hasn’t gained as many assists as would be expected, his underlying numbers remain very impressive. He is averaging 3.97 chances created in the Premier League. If he can maintain that level of performance, a much better second half of the season should await.
The hosts will be missing Izzy Brown through injury, although the winger wouldn’t have been allowed to feature against his parent club in any case. The only other absentee is Steve Sidwell.
Chelsea don’t have many injury concerns to worry about ahead of their trip to the Amex Stadium. Cesc Fabregas and Gary Cahill are both doubts for the match, but they are expected to pull through in time to feature. However, Pedro and Alvaro Morata will be suspended following red cards against Norwich City during the week. Ross Barkley could be in line for his debut and he will add dynamism to their midfield that they have lacked.
Considering the fatigue and lack of confidence in the Chelsea squad, there is never a better time to face the current champions. They will be missing both Pedro and Morata through suspension, which leaves Conte with few options this weekend. It could be a good time to blood Ross Barkley, but he hasn’t played much football in the last 12 months and it would be asking a lot for him to come straight in and deliver a match-winning performance. Eden Hazard has to step up as he has been less than satisfactory during recent weeks. Given their recent form, it is difficult to see them winning. Their defensive solidity coupled with Brighton’s blunt attack means that a loss is unlikely, but the Blues may be facing another bore draw.