Reece James

Chelsea would be “stupid” to believe they can fight for the Premier League trophy with a squad decimated by Covid-19 and injuries, according to Thomas Tuchel.

Danny Welbeck’s added-time header gobsmacked the Blues, rescuing a 1-1 draw for Brighton at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea leapfrogged Liverpool into second place thanks to Romelu Lukaku’s early header, but the Blues led Jurgen Klopp’s Reds by one point with a game in hand.

Reece James suffered a nasty-looking hamstring injury, while Andreas Christensen suffered a back problem, adding to Chelsea’s list of absentees, which now stands at seven players.

The Blues have now drawn four of their last five league home matches, falling eight points behind league leaders Manchester City.

Asked if the Blues can still compete for the title, Tuchel replied: “How should we be in it? We have seven Covid cases. 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, everybody in training has the full power to come through this league.

“We would be stupid to think we can do it out of Covid and injuries and just play, and everybody would be stupid to do it without 23 fit players.”

Asked if the Premier League’s integrity has been lost through the differing Covid profiles of each team, Tuchel said: “This is the reality. This is where we are and we have to adapt to the demands of the situation which you are in.

“I competed very hard for the win at Brighton at home. I don’t know what I can expect from my players in terms of physicality, intensity, or minutes.

“Nobody knows anymore because we have never done something like this. We play trial and error and see what we can do.

“I will protect my team. We can play better but we need the full squad over weeks and weeks. It’s a hamstring injury for Reece James which is a huge blow, and a back injury for Andreas Christensen.”

Chelsea may now find themselves in the midst of a defensive injury epidemic ahead of Sunday’s pivotal match against Liverpool at Stamford Bridge.

James and Christensen are almost certain to miss out, while Thiago Silva remains doubtful due to a thigh injury and Ben Chilwell is out for the season following knee surgery.

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