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Tuchel lashes out as Chelsea's wing-back woes leave title hopes in tatters

02:35 GMT+3 30/12/2021
Mason Mount Chelsea Brighton Premier League 2021-22
Having already lost Ben Chilwell for the rest of the season, the Blues saw Reece James forced off in a damaging 1-1 draw with Brighton

Chelsea 1-1 Brighton: Match Statistics

Romelu Lukaku looked gobsmacked as the final whistle blew at Stamford Bridge. After starring in the Boxing Day victory at Aston Villa, the Belgian had proclaimed Chelsea "the hunters" in this season's title race, arguing that "every game now is like a final".

A 1-1 draw at home to Brighton, then, felt like a fatal blow to the Blues' hopes of overhauling Manchester City at the top of the table.

Lukaku himself had opened the scoring in West London, meaning he had struck in consecutive Premier League games for the first time since March 2019, when he was still playing for Manchester United.

But it wasn't enough to earn his side three badly needed points, as Danny Welbeck's 92nd-minute header from Marc Cucurella's cross earned Brighton a fully deserved share of the spoils.

In Chelsea's defence, they gave their all. It just wasn't enough. Their squad has been struggling with illness and injury for the past few months, resulting in a patchy run of form.

And their misfortune continued against Brighton. Indeed, the match, and arguably the league title, began to slip away after Reece James was forced off during the first half with a suspected hamstring problem.

It was perhaps unsurprising that his body broke down. After all, he had been asked to play on the left, instead of his usual right side, in order to give a rest to Marcos Alonso, who has been filling in for the injured Ben Chilwell.

As it was, the Spaniard was required to come on after just 25 minutes for James, who later left the ground on crutches, compounding what was already a torrid two days for the club. On Tuesday, Chelsea confirmed that Chilwell would require knee surgery and will miss the rest of the season with an injury suffered against Juventus last month.

So, it came as no surprise that Tuchel was in foul form in his post-match press conference.

The German, remember, has been vocal in his support of an increase in substitutes in Premier League matches, and was also left frustrated by the Premier League's rejection of Chelsea's request to have their recent clash with Wolves called off.

When asked if the draw with Brighton put paid to his side's title hopes, Tuchel replied: "We have five or six players out for six or more weeks. How should we compete in a title race?

"Everyone else who has a full squad, with everybody in training, has the strength to come through this [period]. We would be stupid to think we can do it too [because of our problems with] Covid-19 and injuries."

Chelsea's prospects are certainly bleak right now. They rampaged their way through the first part of the season thanks to the sensational form of Chilwell and James, and without either on the field in the second half of the game against Brighton, the Blues' offensive shortcomings were brutally exposed.

There's no obvious solution to their wing-back woes either. They could possibly recall either Emerson Palmieri or Ian Maatsen, who are out on loan at Lyon and Coventry City respectively, or make a move for Everton's out-of-favour left-back Lucas Digne.

However, Palmieri hasn't always convinced, Maatsen is inexperienced at this level, while Digne has been in poor form for some time now.

At the end of the day, this is a terrible position for Chelsea to find themselves in, as it is notoriously difficult to sign quality players during the January transfer window.

So, the already tetchy Tuchel was never going to react well to a couple of big decisions going against his side against Brighton, with the former Paris Saint-Germain boss particularly upset by Mike Dean's decision to whistle for a foul by Mason Mount before the attacking midfielder's subsequent shot had found the back of the net.

"We have 100 per cent a penalty against Christian Pulisic, and there was a 50-50 challenge from Mason Mount before the equaliser," Tuchel argued.

"The ball is going in, so why does he need to whistle before the ball is over the line? Why? We have VAR to check, why can we not wait?

"If he decides that it is a foul, fine, but how is he so sure? Does he want to keep the tension up?

"The [decision not to give a] penalty is a joke. Honestly, [it's] a joke for VAR not to intervene."

Of course, nobody could dispute the fact that Brighton were worthy of at least a point. Tuchel simply feels that Chelsea's squad has been unfairly pushed to breaking point, leaving their title hopes in tatters.

The Blues are now eight points behind league leaders Manchester City and, right now, look utterly incapable of matching the champions' relentless consistency.

Chelsea haven't won two league matches in a row since October and they can take nothing for granted now with two of their most important players sidelined by injury.

Indeed, while the Blues still sit second, they will now be looking over their shoulders at not just Liverpool but also West Ham, Arsenal and Tottenham.

The hunters are in real danger of becoming the hunted.