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Chelsea set up tense final day with Brighton win as Mudryk incident raises questions


Chelsea took a significant step towards a top-six Premier League finish on Wednesday night by beating Brighton 2-1 at the Amex Stadium. Cole Palmer and Christopher Nkunku came up with the goals before Danny Welbeck’s last-gasp consolation, as Mauricio Pochettino’s side made it four wins on the bounce, and five matches undefeated.

It wasn’t all positive, however, as Reece James was shown a straight red card for a kick-out on Joao Pedro, officially ending a season which never really got going on an individual level.

Palmer notched his 25th goal of the campaign in all competitions during the first half, wheeling out his trademark celebration after expertly directing a header over Bart Verbruggen. Pascal Gross could have hauled Brighton back into the game after the break, but his gilt-edged opportunity was prodded wide from close range, and Chelsea kicked on from there.

Nkunku turned in Malo Gusto’s cross to crown a clinical move for the visitors, who could have finished the night further ahead as Nicolas Jackson saw a goal chalked off shortly before the interval, and Marc Cucurella had a penalty rescinded.

Below, Express Sport takes you through five key talking points…

Blues set up tense finale

Chelsea have put themselves in an A1 position to secure a top-six finish and Europa League qualification on the final day of the season this weekend, but they’re not over the line just yet.

Following an impressive win at the Amex, Pochettino will travel north in the knowledge that a draw at home to Bournemouth this Sunday would guarantee his side the finish which seemed almost impossible several weeks ago.

Manchester United are effectively out of the running due to their poor goal difference, while Newcastle United would need to win at Brentford and hope Chelsea lose to deny the Blues Europa League football.

Mudryk incident raises questions

As has been the case many times this season, it wasn’t Mykhaylo Mudryk’s day. His inability to affect the game wasn’t the only thing which went against him at the Amex, as a clash with Tariq Lamptey saw him forced off as a concussion substitute in the first half.

The pair came together off the ball, with grainy VAR footage showing Lamptey catching Mudryk in the face, either with his elbow or shoulder. The Ukrainian slumped to the turf before coming off, but the match officials decided there was not enough conclusive evidence against the Brighton man to issue a red card – much to Blues supporters’ disbelief.

Reece James’ nightmare season ended

It’s been a truly torrid campaign for the right-back, and it’s come at the worst possible time, having been made captain by Pochettino last summer. Persistent hamstring problems have limited him to six starts in all competitions, and his late kick-out on Joao Pedro means he won’t be getting anymore.

It took a lengthy VAR review to finally come to a decision, but James can have no complaints as he prepares to sit out another important game against Bournemouth this weekend. Making matters worse is the fact it was the 24-year-old’s second dismissal of the season, which will land him with a four-match ban and rule him out for the first three games of 2024/25.

Chelsea duo get revenge

There was cause for celebration on the south coast for Cucurella and Moises Caicedo. The ex-Brighton duo were given a hostile reception by Seagulls fans despite having each excelled during their time at the club.

Brighton’s balance sheet is certainly thankful for Chelsea’s business, as the Londoners shelled out a whopping £178million to sign them. But the players had the last laugh on Wednesday night, with Caicedo playing well and Cucurella notching an assist to help seal the three points.

Palmer’s new side-kick?

When it comes to being prolific, Palmer stands head and shoulders above every Chelsea player since Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital’s takeover. The 22-year-old is now up to 32 goal involvements in the Premier League this season (41 in all competitions) – a total only Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba can better.

But Nkunku could be right there with him next campaign. The Frenchman has been ravaged by injuries this term, limiting him to only two league starts, but he has still managed to find the net three times. His return to the side on a more consistent basis in 2024/25 will be a major source of optimism for Mauricio Pochettino.

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