By William Schomberg
LONDON – Chelsea laboured to a 0-0 draw at home against Brighton & Hove Albion in the Premier League on Tuesday, a match overshadowed by reports that the Blues had ditched their plan to join the breakaway European Super League.
In a setback for Chelsea’s push to qualify for next season’s Champions League – the competition they had controversially planned to snub – the hosts failed to find a way through the well marshalled defence of relegation-threatened Brighton.
Chelsea coach Thomas Tuchel was left to voice his frustration loudly in his native German as his expensively assembled team saw every attack easily mopped up by the visitors’ back line led by captain Lewis Dunk.
Tuchel said his team had been distracted by the outpouring of anger at the breakaway plan.
“I was affected so I think the players were affected. We talk of nothing else but Super League before the match,” he told the BBC. “Nobody asked about the match before. It is like this. You have to accept the distraction.
“We made big mistakes, looked tired, mentally tired,” Tuchel said. “We did not deserve to win which is maybe for the first time since I come here.”
Brighton substitute Adam Lallana wasted a glorious chance when he pounced on an error by Chelsea centre back Kurt Zouma but fired wide in the 77th minute.
Danny Welbeck struck a post two minutes later with a shot from outside the box as Brighton pushed for a shock win.
Brighton defender Ben White was sent off for a second yellow card in the 92nd minute.
“We had a couple of chances at the end,” Lallana told Sky Sports. “I should have buried mine. That is what football is about – the underdogs coming here tonight. We were outstanding and should have taken three points.”
The draw pushed Chelsea up into fourth place and into the Champions League qualification spots but only on goal difference above West Ham United who they are due to visit on Saturday.
Chelsea are also still in contention to lift the FA Cup and Champions League trophies.
It was the 15th clean sheet in 20 games for the Blues since Tuchel took over from Frank Lampard in January.
Brighton remained in 16th place, seven points ahead of Fulham who occupy the highest of the relegation spots.
The game lacked the drama seen outside Stamford Bridge before the match where hundreds of angry Chelsea fans demonstrated against the club’s plan to join the ESL.
The protests turned to celebrations as media reported that Chelsea had begun the process of withdrawing from the breakaway league with fans singing: “We’ve got our club back.”