Mauricio Pochettino spoke of his pride after watching Chelsea cling on with 10 men to earn a battling 3-2 win against Brighton at Stamford Bridge.
Captain Conor Gallagher was sent off late in the first half with the hosts leading 2-1, leaving them facing an uphill battle to hold off a fightback from Roberto De Zerbi’s side.
Chelsea had looked to be heading in at half-time two goals to the good, Enzo Fernandez and Levi Colwill each heading in their first Premier League goals three minutes apart to open up a commanding lead but Brighton halved the deficit through Facundo Buonanotte before Gallagher was shown a second yellow card.
The visitors’ fightback was curtailed midway through the second half when Mykhailo Mudryk, in for Cole Palmer who had picked up a knock in training, raced through on goal and drew a foul from James Milner, a penalty awarded following a pitchside review and a second goal for Fernandez clipped home from 12 yards.
Brighton battled gamely against a determined Chelsea rearguard and a goal headed in by substitute Joao Pedro breathed life into the contest at the start of 10 minutes of stoppage time.
Then in the final seconds, referee Craig Pawson was called pitchside again to adjudicate on a possible handball inside the box against Colwill. This time the call was no penalty, and Chelsea saw out the win to banish memories of last weekend’s 4-1 defeat by Newcastle.
“It wasn’t a sending off,” said Pochettino. “That is my opinion. Maybe I am wrong. This type of period where you are building something, it always happens. We are a young team. I want to clarify – not we are young players, we are a young team.
“We need to improve, we need to learn. The Premier League is the best in the world. We have too many players that need to feel what it means to play in the Premier League. We were a little bit more aggressive after Newcastle where we didn’t show our real face.
“We wanted to play well, to be aggressive and show we care. I think the team was really good, I feel proud. After Newcastle it was tough, and a team like Brighton is always difficult to play.
“I am so proud of the players and the character that they showed. I told them at half-time, ‘it’s 2-1 to us, it’s a great opportunity for us – now we need to show that we are a team’.”
The win was the first in six attempts that Chelsea have managed against Brighton in the league, and was notable for a standout performance from Mudryk who has looked increasingly at home in west London this season after a difficult first six months.
Happy with the W and to have scored my first goal Thank you guys for the support pic.twitter.com/0oODJ8kygd
— Levi Colwill (@levi_colwill) December 3, 2023
Pochettino reiterated the need for young players like the Ukrainian to feel settled before they can be expected to produce on the pitch.
“It’s not only about building the way that you want to play, your philosophy on the pitch,” he said. “Before that, you need to belong to the team, you need to belong to the club, to settle yourself.
“You need to grow, need to get experience. Too many things before you can talk about playing from the back, or play with three or four offensive players, or with three or five at the back. That comes in after.”
Brighton boss De Zerbi reflected on a game he felt his team did not deserve to lose.
— Brighton & Hove Albion (@OfficialBHAFC) December 3, 2023
“It’s hard because I think we played much better than Chelsea,” he said.
“We made three big mistakes, two set-pieces in the first half and we conceded the third goal in an incredible way.
“It was a clear penalty for them, but we can’t concede a counter-attack in that way (from) a corner for us. In that way we are young, but we need to be more focused in that situation and at set-pieces.”
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