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Albion Analytics preview: Chelsea

Albion head to Stamford bridge this evening.

By Liam Tharme • 20 April 2021

By Paul Hazlewood
Pascal Gross has played 130 times for Albion, and has the most assists for the club in their Premier League history.

Brighton travel to Stamford Bridge for a battle between two of the league's best defensive sides this calendar year.

Last time out, the Seagulls limited Champions League-chasing Everton to just eight shots worth 0.31xG, with Chelsea the only side to limit the Toffees to fewer shots (7) and fewer Expected Goals (0.27) in the last six matches. That point at the Amex means Albion have clocked 33 points after 31 Premier League games for the third Premier League season running, while the clean sheet in that fixture took the Seagulls into double digits for clean sheets for the first time since the 2017/18 season. Only Leeds (5) have conceded fewer home goals this year than Brighton.

Robert Sanchez ranks inside the top 15% of Premier League goalkeepers this season for clean sheet frequency, shutting opponents out in 40% of matches. Chelsea's Edouard Mendy is one of only two Premier League goalkeepers to better the Spaniard in clean sheets this calendar year.

Across Europe's top five leagues this season, Leeds United's Illan Meslier (73.5%) is the only Under-23 goalkeeper to boast a better save percentage than Sanchez (72.6%), with Albion’s keeper having recorded 15 high claims in as many appearances this year, testament to his ability to stop shots as well as prevent chances occurring.

Brighton’s underlying defensive numbers have improved from last campaign, showing the clean sheet spike this season to be no fluke. In the 19/20 season, opponents averaged 1.43 Expected Goals per game against the Seagulls, making Brighton the eighth leakiest side in the league. Comparatively, this campaign Brighton are allowing opponents chances worth just 0.99 Expected Goals per game, one of only three sides – including Chelsea (0.85xGA/match) – to allow opponents less than 1xG per match.

Additionally, bedding in a new style of play was bound to have teething issues, and Albion made 16 errors leading to shots last season, the fifth most in the league. This time around they have made just three such errors, with only Manchester City (2) making fewer. Interestingly, these numbers come at a time when Graham Potter’s side are pressing less, though most sides are following this trend.

Their per game press average has dropped from 152 last season to 130 this campaign, though a 3% increase in the number of pressures leading to a turnover in five seconds suggests a pressing approach of quality over quantity this season – in fact, Albion lead the Premier League way for press success rate (33%), and only eight sides in Europe’s big five leagues can better the Seagulls.

Ben White has played a central role in the Brighton’s immense defensive numbers this campaign, accumulating the most minutes (2,652) of any Albion player this season. The youngster has played close to a quarter of those minutes in a midfield role, demonstrative of his versatility to operate not just in the back line. The 23-year-old ranks inside the top four Albion players for passes into final third (94), tackles won (28), successful pressures (113), opposition shots blocked (16), tackles + interceptions (78), successful/attempted dribbles (20/34) and ball recoveries (264) – this vast collection proves just how significant White’s role is both with and without the ball, and his performance last time out against Everton was archetypal of his style of play. Of course, these numbers are made impressive with it being White’s first Premier League campaign, having made his competition debut in the reverse fixture.

Adam Webster’s inclusion on the bench against Everton was his first squad involvement since early February. Among Premier League centre-backs this season, Webster ranks inside the top 15% for passes and dribbles into the final third, passes played under pressure and press success rate. Compared to his Brighton counterparts, Webster ranks in the top three for aerial duels won (73), clearances (87), opposition shots blocked (15) and tackle success rate versus dribbling opponents (54.2%).

As a team, Brighton have recorded 12 defensive actions leading to shots this season, double what opponents have managed against them (6). Again, to highlight the progression, opponents (18) outperformed the Albion (14) in this metric last season. Yves Bissouma (3) has recorded the most defensive actions leading to shots of any Seagull this season, though this hardly seems surprising given he ranks second in the Premier League for tackles won (57). Chelsea’s Ngolo Kante is one of just six players to have successfully tackled on over 50 occasions this season, with the Frenchman among the league’s top three for interceptions (57).

Graham Potter’s side will need to be at their defensive best if they are to avoid going eight Premier League games without a win against Chelsea; Thomas Tuchel’s side have created 17 big chances in the last six games, the second most in the league, whilst the Blues have shipped just four at the other end – a league high. Comparatively, Albion have outperformed opponents in the big chance category, creating 11 and conceding eight.

Chelsea are the third best side in the league for shots taken (450), shots on target (159) and Expected Goals (50.9), whilst they lead the Premier League for dead-ball shot-creating actions (73). England starlet Mason Mount is fundamental to Chelsea’s set-piece threat, having recorded 42 of Chelsea’s 73 shot-creating actions from set-pieces – Albion’s Pascal Gross is the next closest challenger to Mount, with 32 to his name.

Only Timo Werner (11) has more Premier League goal involvements this season for Chelsea than Mount (10), with the former Derby County loanee leading the Chelsea pack in terms of shots (65), open-play passes completed into box (47), final third tackles (14) and nutmegs (7).