Even the Third Coming of a legend fails to inspire sorry Chelsea against Brighton
Chelsea (1) 1 Gallagher 13
Brighton (1) 2 Welbeck 42, Enciso 69
There is not much more Frank Lampard can do for Chelsea Football Club. Having won every trophy going as a player, proving decisive in cup finals and title wins alike, he is one of the most decorated figures in the club’s history and will likely remain their record goal scorer for decades to come.
Although his 18-month spell as permanent manager ended without silverware, Lampard still managed to guide a young team back into the Champions League in the midst of a transfer ban, and, perhaps more importantly, helped the club reconnect with its supporters by establishing a pathway for a number of promising academy prospects to become first-team regulars.
Todd Boehly welcoming Lampard back for a second, albeit temporary, spell in the dugout looked an imperfect solution to a less than ideal situation. Graham Potter struggled to fit in let alone win at Stamford Bridge, and the likes of Luis Enrique and Julian Nagelsmann were seemingly unwilling to embrace the mess that the chairman has created until the summer at least.
Perhaps only the burden of responsibility that comes with being a club legend could encourage any capable manager to take this particular job at this particular time. Defeats without scoring against Wolves and Real Madrid this week, coupled with his indifferent spell at Everton, hinted Lampard may not even be that.
At times on his Stamford Bridge return against Brighton on Saturday it seemed as though Chelsea’s imperfect solution may have at least found a way to restore some joy if not salvage this season.
Mykhailo Mudryk made just hist fifth Chelsea start in one of six changes from the loss at the Bernabeu, and this was his most promising display as of yet. A direct early dribble left Joel Veltman scrambling just to bring him down. On a booking and struggling to keep pace with the Ukrainian, Mudryk was likely more disappointed than Veltman when the defender was forced off through injury before the half hour.
Mudryk had already played his part in the ever-so appropriate kickstart to this flawed re-coupling between club and manager. As Chelsea reached 390 minutes without a goal, Mudryk carried the ball to create space for Connor Gallagher to his left. As is so often Gallagher’s will, he decided to head towards the opposition goal as quickly as possible. His shot from distance took an almighty deflection off Lewis Dunk that saw the ball loop into the net.
It was ugly, it was fortunate, but it had the Bridge cheering for the first time in weeks. At least they have that to hold on to, as practically all of the next 78 minutes plus injury time were spent watching Roberto De Zerbi’s side toy with them as should possibly be expected when a team sitting 11th in the Premier League host an opponent chasing Europe.
Brighton’s equaliser did not come until three minutes before half-time as substitute Danny Welbeck rose to head home a Pascal Gross cross, but by this point Evan Ferguson had rattled the crossbar and Kepa had saved brilliantly from both the young forward and Karou Mitoma.
The goalkeeper was surprisingly named as captain by Lampard after the changes had been wrung, and he seemed inspired by the decision. Yet there was nothing the Spaniard nor anyone in Chelsea blue could do about the strike that decided the contest.
All of thirty yards from goal, Julio Enciso, one of the lesser seen and subsequently less heralded members of this supremely talented Brighton squad, unleashed a shot that only sped up as it hit the top left corner of the net.
A spattering of supporters had already demanded Lampard ‘sort it out’ by this point and his response of a quadruple substitution did nothing to alter the flow of the game. If anything, Brighton became even more comfortable once they were ahead.
Boehly looked on from the directors’ box at the chaos he is largely responsible for. A win for Fulham means the team he has spent some £550 million on since last summer is now even further off the pace in the race for a top-half finish.
Chelsea: (4-2-3-1) Kepa – Chalobah, Fofana (James 56), Badiashile, Chilwell – Zakaria (Mount 74), Fernandez (Kovacic 56) – Pulisic (Ziyech 56), Gallagher, Mudryk – Sterling (Felix 56). Subs not used: Mendy, Aubameyang, Azpilicueta, Cucurella