There’s no telling whether Chelsea have reached the bottom of this current level of form, or if there’s more to come down – and all this humiliation hasn’t come cheap for the new owners.
It took £600m to look so ordinary, and no small part of that paid in taxes and managerial fees to Brighton, who completed their league double against Chelsea on Saturday. If October’s victory at the Amex Stadium was a howl of defiance at the recently deceased Graham Potter, this was a sophisticated dismantling of a nowhere-going post-Potter Chelsea team.
The incumbent venture capitalists are going where few Chelsea administrations have gone before.
They are eleventh with a run of two draws and two defeats in the Premier League which is the club’s worst run of results since the dark days of 2015-2016 when Jose Mourinho lost his storyline a second time.
That season, when Mourinho was sacked just one point above the relegation zone in December, offers the closest comparison to current events. The club finished 10th then, between two title winning seasons.
Todd Boehly was photographed after this defeat engaging in what appeared to be a robust exchange with fans in the tier above his hospitality box. The club declined to comment on the nature of the discussion but there is no doubt patience is nearing its end at Stamford Bridge. Nobody knows what performance will come against Real Madrid on Tuesday.
The oft-quoted reassurance offered by the Boehly-Behdad Eghbali consortium is that nobody becomes a billionaire without being the smartest man in the room. Although here that status belonged to Tony Bloom, the chairman of Brighton. His team was outstanding, led by Potter’s successor, Roberto De Zerbi.
Frank Lampard, Chelsea’s third manager this season, suffered his third defeat in three games as caretaker manager and saw his side lose duels all over the pitch.
Was it the worst of the three defeats? “It was the most deserved,” Lampard said, “and I think at the moment, more than defeats, we have to talk about performances. Wins only come with performance and in terms of performance it was the most disappointing because we were beaten well and it’s the basis of football again.”
This was, he acknowledged, a fine Brighton side who could beat anyone in their day. “But we were short: a short meter, a short tackle, a short dueling moment. You have to have the ability to do it as well as the desire, and we currently don’t. We need to turn the tables quickly.
Lampard chose this team with a two-goal deficit against Real in mind. He gave Mykhailo Mudryk 90 minutes, presumably on the grounds that the Ukrainian needs confidence, although whether that paid off is hard to say, apart from his assist for Conor Gallagher’s goal. Wesley Fofana appeared to be injured when he was one of four substitutes just before substitute Julio Enciso’s winning goal was bowled over by Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Among the four exits were Christian Pulisic and Raheem Sterling, both unable to impact the game.
Meanwhile, Boehly could have been forgiven for wondering why his recruiting department overlooked Kaoru Mitoma and Pervis Estupiñán, as well as Moises Caicedo, who they at least tried to sign. Of the five match-day staff, including Potter, and a player Chelsea had appointed from Brighton in September, only goalkeeping coach Ben Roberts and Marc Cucurella remained. Both spent the afternoon on the bench.
Everything that could have gone well for De Zerbi went well, with the exception of two injuries in the first half; one to promising Irish forward Evan Ferguson and the other to full-back Joel Veltman, both of whom will miss next Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United.
First-half substitutes Danny Welbeck and Enciso scored the goals, with Welbeck heading in Pascal Gross and Enciso’s crosses, replacing Veltman, who scored the winning goal in front of the Shed in the second half with a right foot that would grace own, long catalog of great strikes by Lampard.
“I can’t sit here and say, ‘We didn’t deserve to lose,'” Lampard said. “The only thing that matters is the reaction and that’s what matters now until the end of the season.”
Brighton have been able to put in more tries on Chelsea’s goal – 26 – than any other team at Stamford Bridge since records began. What could Madrid do with that kind of freedom?