Since Todd Boehly and Behdad Eghbali bought the club, Chelsea have pillaged tonight’s opponents, demonstrating their financial might by spending nearly a quarter of a billion to poach two of their best players in Marc Cucurella and Moises Caicedo, head coach Graham Potter and a host his of backroom staff, as well as sporting director Paul Winstanley.
Yet, Brighton keep getting better as Boehly’s Chelsea get progressively worse — at least in terms of results.
After just six games, Brighton are already 10 points clear of the Blues, and the clubs’ contrasting fortunes offer the perfect demonstration that money is not always the answer, even in modern football, where hyper-capitalism rules.
Boehly’s Chelsea want to be a kind of souped-up version of Brighton, higher in the food chain but with a similar philosophy and ethos, but their raiding of the Seagulls has only proven that a culture, a structure and a coherent vision have to be built, rather than bought.
Tony Bloom’s Brighton are the antithesis of this Chelsea: intelligent, resourceful, sustainable, profitable, holistic and, above all, a successful and exhilarating football team.
It is a measure of the clubs’ positions that tonight’s game surely means less to Brighton, given Roberto De Zerbi’s side also have European football to consider this season. The Italian could do Blues coach Mauricio Pochettino a favour by resting key players.
History suggests Pochettino has what it takes to eventually whip Chelsea’s inexperienced bunch of expensive recruits into shape and deserves patience and understanding, although the former Tottenham boss must be wondering what he has signed up for.
The situation at Chelsea looks every bit as chaotic and political as Pochettino’s former club, Paris Saint-Germain, where he faced interference from above and had to contend with a bloated squad, packed with egos.
At Stamford Bridge, there is a strong whiff of boardroom meddling, and it emerged this week that Eghbali regularly enters the dressing room, despite the backlash to Boehly doing the same in the wake of the defeat by Brighton last term.
Rather than big-name egos, though, Pochettino is now managing a group of talented but naive players, in many cases burdened with enormous transfer fees, and his frustrations were obvious after the home loss to Villa, when he called on his squad to grow up. It followed Nicolas Jackson’s fifth booking of the season, the majority for dissent, which will rule him out of Monday night’s derby at Fulham.
Indeed, tonight’s third-round tie kickstarts a gruelling nine-game stretch for the Blues which also includes League fixtures against Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester City, Newcastle, Brighton and Manchester United, as well as
London derbies with the Cottagers and Brentford. The only obvious relief is a visit to Burnley on October 7 but, given Chelsea have taken 12 points from a possible 54 since beating Leicester on March 11 — the worst record of any club to have been in the top flight for the entire period — nothing should be taken for granted.
If Chelsea cannot find some form quickly, pressure will inevitably mount on Pochettino and it will take a show of nerve from Boehly and Eghbali to keep faith with the Argentine, even if the co-owners are the makers of this mess.
Pochettino’s situation is not being helped by events at his former club Spurs, where Ange Postecoglou has rapidly transformed his side’s style of play, despite having a new-look first XI full of young players. When Spurs turned to Postecoglou after overlooking Pochettino, it was easy to assume the Australian’s rebuilding job might be made more difficult due to constant comparisons with his predecessor, now managing down the road. As it turns out, Postecoglou’s early success is heaping more pressure on Pochettino.
The manager, though, is not to blame for their struggles and, in reality, there is not a club in the top flight who would not compare favourably to the Blues over the last six months. Tonight may be an opportunity to kick-start Pochettino’s tenure, but the fact a home win over Brighton might be considered a scalp for Chelsea says everything about the state of both clubs.