Chelsea shared a goalless draw with Brighton to climb into the Champions Leagues places on a night where the future of European football came to a dramatic head.
The Blues’ notice of withdrawal was followed by that of Manchester City as the controversial new competition threatened to unravel just 48 hours after the 12 clubs involved unveiled their proposals.
With the current Champions League admitting sides on merit, Chelsea will need to finish among the top four in the English top flight, or win the competition, to qualify for a spot among Europe’s elite next season.
The Blues created little but a point was enough to see Thomas Tuchel’s side take up the last of those automatic places, going above London rivals West Ham, who they face on Saturday.
It was in fact Brighton who enjoyed the best chances late on as first substitute Adam Lallana fired wide before Danny Welbeck struck the post from distance.
Defender Ben White was then sent off for the visitors in stoppage time for a second booking as Chelsea looked to break away.
The draw moves Graham Potter’s side seven points above the Premier League relegation zone with six games to play.
Blues distracted by off-field drama?
The drama started long before kick-off in west London as around 1,000 Chelsea fans gathered outside the stadium in protest at plans for a new European Super League that has been met with widespread condemnation.
Blues goalkeeper Petr Cech, now the club’s technical and performance advisor, could be seen pleading with the crowd to disperse so the team coaches could enter the ground, which led to the game being delayed by 15 minutes.
It was not long before news began filtering through that Chelsea were in fact preparing documentation to withdraw from the proposed competition and that was met with cheers by those still gathered in the area.
It is reported the decision was taken by owner Roman Abramovich and the Chelsea board after witnessing negative global reaction to the Super League, rather than a direct response to the protests.
Chelsea boss Tuchel said beforehand it was an “annoying and frustrating” distraction for his side as they looked to build on the momentum gained by reaching the Champions League semi-finals and FA Cup final in the past week.
And there was no escaping it during the warm-up as Brighton players donned T-shirts reading “Football is for the fans” and ‘Champions League: Earn it” on them.
The off-field drama did not translate on to the pitch as sides with the two of the best recent defensive records in the Premier League struggled to pick holes in another.
A long-range Kurt Zouma effort that Robert Sanchez saved comfortably was the best Chelsea could muster before the break, while Yves Bissouma’s deflected effort that looped over the crossbar was as close as Brighton came.
Tuchel’s concerns appeared to be coming to fruition with Zouma’s attempt one of just three in the first half for the Blues, their fewest in the opening 45 minutes of a Premier League game since managing only one against Liverpool in September.
It was a similar pattern after the interval, with a disciplined Brighton keeping their shape well and stifling any probing attacking moves from the hosts.
Tuchel introduced Callum Hudson-Odoi and Timo Werner with just over 20 minutes to go in an attempt to stretch the Seagulls, with Olivier Giroud following soon after.
But it was the visitors who enjoyed the best opportunities as first Lallana shot wide after Chelsea gave the ball away on the edge of their own box and then Welbeck whipped a superb effort against the post.
Tuchel’s changes did have some impact as Giroud turned a Hudson-Odoi cross wide and the winger was then brought down by White, as he earned a second yellow card in the 92nd minute.
It was a 15th clean sheet in Tuchel’s 20th game in charge of the Blues, who have lost only one of their 13 Premier League games since the German’s arrival
Brighton, meanwhile, have won just two of their past 10 league matches, but victory at Sheffield United on Saturday would all but secure their top-flight status for another year.
More to follow.
helpHow to play
Rate players out of 10 throughout or after the game. The rater will close 30 minutes after the final whistle.
Rating range key1 = Give it up10 = Pure perfection
Squad number1Player nameArrizabalaga
Squad number4Player nameChristensen
Squad number15Player nameZouma
Squad number2Player nameRüdiger
Squad number24Player nameJames
Squad number5Player nameJorginho
Squad number19Player nameMount
Squad number3Player nameAlonso
Squad number22Player nameZiyech
Squad number29Player nameHavertz
Squad number10Player namePulisic
Squad number11Player nameWerner
Squad number18Player nameGiroud
Squad number20Player nameHudson-Odoi
Brighton & Hove Albion
Squad number26Player nameSánchez
Squad number3Player nameWhite
Squad number5Player nameDunk
Squad number4Player nameWebster
Squad number8Player nameBissouma
Squad number34Player nameVeltman
Squad number13Player nameGroß
Squad number10Player nameMac Allister
Squad number33Player nameBurn
Squad number11Player nameTrossard
Squad number18Player nameWelbeck
Squad number9Player nameMaupay
Squad number14Player nameLallana
Squad number15Player nameModer
15ZoumaBooked at 35mins
5JorginhoBooked at 35mins
3AlonsoSubstituted forHudson-Odoiat 67′minutes
22ZiyechSubstituted forGiroudat 77′minutes
29HavertzSubstituted forWernerat 67′minutes
3WhiteBooked at 90mins
10Mac AllisterSubstituted forMaupayat 74′minutes
11TrossardSubstituted forLallanaat 60′minutes
18WelbeckSubstituted forModerat 86′minutes
Match ends, Chelsea 0, Brighton and Hove Albion 0.
Second Half ends, Chelsea 0, Brighton and Hove Albion 0.
Corner, Brighton and Hove Albion. Conceded by Reece James.
Attempt blocked. Neal Maupay (Brighton and Hove Albion) right footed shot from the right side of the box is blocked. Assisted by Jakub Moder.
Attempt saved. Olivier Giroud (Chelsea) header from the centre of the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Reece James with a cross.
Second yellow card to Ben White (Brighton and Hove Albion) for a bad foul.
Callum Hudson-Odoi (Chelsea) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Ben White (Brighton and Hove Albion).
Attempt saved. Christian Pulisic (Chelsea) right footed shot from a difficult angle on the right is saved in the top centre of the goal. Assisted by Andreas Christensen.
Hand ball by Adam Lallana (Brighton and Hove Albion).
Substitution, Brighton and Hove Albion. Jakub Moder replaces Danny Welbeck.
Attempt missed. Olivier Giroud (Chelsea) left footed shot from the centre of the box is close, but misses to the left. Assisted by Callum Hudson-Odoi with a cross.
Attempt saved. Adam Lallana (Brighton and Hove Albion) right footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the bottom left corner. Assisted by Pascal Groß.
Attempt blocked. Danny Welbeck (Brighton and Hove Albion) left footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked.
Danny Welbeck (Brighton and Hove Albion) hits the right post with a right footed shot from outside the box. Assisted by Adam Lallana.
Attempt missed. Adam Lallana (Brighton and Hove Albion) left footed shot from the centre of the box misses to the left. Assisted by Neal Maupay.
Substitution, Chelsea. Olivier Giroud replaces Hakim Ziyech.
Offside, Chelsea. Antonio Rüdiger tries a through ball, but Timo Werner is caught offside.
Substitution, Brighton and Hove Albion. Neal Maupay replaces Alexis Mac Allister.
Ben White (Brighton and Hove Albion) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.