Wednesday night’s Carabao Cup highlighted the huge gulf between the playing squads of Brighton and tomorrow’s opponents Chelsea.
Brighton made 11 changes for Aston Villa following their 0-0 draw in the Premier League at Newcastle and Chelsea also rotated as 10 players came in for Frank Lampard after their 2-1 loss to Liverpool.
While Brighton fielded a team of under-18s and under-23s for the 3-1 defeat to Villa, Chelsea’s goalscorers included England international Ross Barkley, Belgium striker Michy Batshuayi, Pedro, and England’s finest young talents of Reece James and Callum Hudson-Odoi as they walloped Grimsby 7-1.
Both Graham Potter and Lampard have received credit this season for promoting youth talent. Albion striker Aaron Connolly, who was very unlucky not to score at Newcastle, has also seen action at Manchester City this campaign. Against Villa in the Carabao the young Irishman, with just four first team appearances to his name, was classed as one of the more senior figures – aged 19. He was even substituted just after the hour to keep him fresh for Stamford Bridge.
Steven Alzate has also been promoted from the under-23s and he made an encouraging man-of-the-match debut at Newcastle. Alzate will hope to retain his place and if he can replicate his form from St James’ Park, the 21-year-old will not look out of place against Chelsea’s emerging crop
The transfer ban at the Bridge has provided opportunities for Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Tomori and also James this season. Lampard’s task is not an easy one but around these fine young players is a squad chock-a-block with internationals and Champions League players.
Potter, by contrast, is introducing his youngsters alongside solid Premier League pros and players who excelled in the Championship last season but are still adjusting to the step-up. Add in some injuries to key signing Leandro Trossard, midfielder Solly March, Alireza Jahanbakhsh and defender Shane Duffy and it’s quite the challenge – not that Potter is complaining.
“It (injuries) is part of it,” said the Albion head coach. “Everyone has these moments and if you look at the game against Newcastle, there were no excuses.
“In an ideal world you want everybody available, but sometimes that is not to be and then you just have to make sure you look after them and get them back as soon as possible.”
For all that, Brighton have been highly competitive this season. They have six points from six – just two points behind 11th placed Chelsea – and with a shade more luck, they could easily have won their last two.
Should Brighton have more points to show? “No,” insisted Potter. “The whole point of the game is that you have to score. If you don’t do that then you don’t deserve anything. Our performances have been good but there is no point in feeling sorry for ourselves. You get what you get.”
Chelsea were excellent despite their 2-1 reverse against Liverpool last Saturday at Stamford Bridge. Mount, Abraham and Tomori all featured against the Champions League winners.
“They were really good,” said Potter. “Mount and Tomori were good for Derby and I like them both. They were top Championship players and with the right pathway they will play in the Premier League no doubt. Same as Tammy, he scored goals in the Championship prolifically, so I’m not surprised. Frank knows them well, so that helps.
“From the outside, it’s a tough situation with the embargo but sometimes you can use that to your advantage. Some of the young players will come through. Reece James is another example. He will get game time. It’s a Champions League club at the end of the day so they have good players.
“I was really impressed with them against Liverpool. They were certainly unlucky not to take anything from the game. When you go toe to toe like that with Liverpool, it shows they are a fantastic side. The front three and midfield three are really talented and they are strong at home.
“They lost a top one in Hazard but they still have great talent. Frank will galvanise them in a good way.
“I have been impressed with Lampard but I’m not surprised. His football experience and his career speaks for itself. I think he has the potential to be a top manager.
“He’s articulate and intelligent and experienced the game at the very highest level. He did a good job at Derby and came into this situation at Chelsea. It’s challenging but he has the capacity to deal with that.”
On the injury front, Albion’s Duffy will be out “weeks rather than days” after suffering a calf injury against Villa in midweek. Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Solly March could return. Bernardo (knee) is also out but Glenn Murray, Neal Maupay and Dale Stephens, who has been ill, are available.
Chelsea left-back Emerson is out for a month (hamstring) and Antonio Rudiger and Ruben Loftus-Cheek are also missing, while Andreas Christensen is doubtful.