The city of Brighton was pervasive, unforgiving, and absolutely gorgeous. They demonstrated many of the best traits of their previous manager, playing with style, intelligence and tactical flexibility, but this was no act of honor. It was a butterball as De Zerbian boomed, and with Chelsea roaring off the field with a twitching sound in their ears the entire time, no one inside the Amex would have made the mistake of thinking Brighton longed for the past.
There was no place for any emotion. Graham Potter, watching from an unfamiliar place in the distant bunker, found himself unable to silence the sarcasm. There was nothing to deny Roberto de Zerbe his first win as Brighton boss, and once the dust had settled, it was left to Potter to question his tactics, question why Chelsea were so out of control and even suggest using Raheem Sterling and Christian Pulisic. The defenders of the wings also made him look like a “little idiot”.
It was a painful way to end the career of the former Brighton manager, who was undefeated in nine matches. Potter’s former employers were seeking revenge and ruthlessly exploited Chelsea’s weakness. De Zerbe had primed his side to attack on the flanks, as Sterling and Pulisic’s three-pointed defense revealed a grueling defense, and that approach paid off during the opening period that ended with Chelsea grateful for only a 3-0 dip.
For De Zurbi, who has gone five matches without winning since replacing Potter, it was a vindication of his attacking philosophy. “We played a great match,” said the Brighton boss. “We played bravely.”
There was anger, too. The curiosity between and going to these clubs was that the local fans were doing their best from the start. There was the taunting of Mark Cucurella, the stinging of Potter and his coaches, and the toxic atmosphere of Brighton, whose overriding goal seemed to force anyone to call up his nourishing Chelsea club to think again.
After all, the week began with Chelsea looking to hire Brighton’s hiring manager, Paul Winstanley. The dynamic felt frustrating, with one elite member using their deep pockets to beat a smaller competitor, and Brighton had a point to prove.
Their football blew Chelsea away. Thiago Silva, whose distribution from the back was poor, hooked up the goals from Leandro Trossard and Pervis Estupinian during the first minutes, and the visitors quickly cracked. Playing Slack in midfield allowed Kaoru Mitoma to find Trossard, who danced around Kepa Arrizabalaga and put the ball into the empty net.
With Alexis Mac Allister and Moisés Caicedo beating Mateo Kovacic and Conor Gallagher in midfield, Brighton were the dominant ones. The hosts had to rein in fans near Chelsea’s bunker and feelings overcame De Zerbe, who scored the first home goal of his tenure by entering the pitch.
De Zerbi joined a good and smart club. Brighton’s creative juices were flowing and they doubled their lead after a further spoiled defense from Chelsea, Gallagher’s Sulley Marsh corner kick and Ruben Loftus-Cheek curled the ball into his own net in the 14th minute.
Potter messed up his tactics. De Zerbe had his team in a 4-2-3-1 system, with Adam Lallana behind Trossard, and Brighton continued to run behind Pulisic and Sterling. The combos between Estupinan and Mituma posed a threat on the left, and March saw the time of his life against Kokurila, who had a rough patch against his old team in the left central defence.
However, there was a mention of Chelsea’s threat. Gallagher made two great saves by Robert Sanchez and Pulisic missed an open goal. It proved to be expensive. Brighton pushed for third and got it before the break. Once again breaking through the left, Kaiseido released Estobian, whom Trevoh Chalobah turned downsizing.
It was a disaster for Chelsea, who had to replace the injured Arrizabalaga with Edward Mendy, and Potter made adjustments during the break. The right-back trial was over, Loftus-Cheek moved to the right-back position and Chelsea had hope when Kai Havertz headed in Gallagher’s cross.
But for all that Chelsea pushed, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang coming to extend Robert Sanchez, the comeback never materialized. The occasion was finally summed up by locals harassing Cucurella when the £62.5m defender went in in the 64th minute. Chelsea were overtaken and the fourth goal came when Mendy fired in a shot from substitute Julio Inezio in stoppage time.
There was Pascal Gross, who started the day at right-back, turned up on the left to score the rebound. Still smart and versatile, Brighton has never been in a forgiving mood.
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