LONDON -- From the day he arrived it seemed inevitable that Nicolas Jackson's reign as Chelsea's first-choice center forward would be fleeting. An ownership group with a pathological addiction to acquisitions were hardly going to let it roll with a player who had just 12 top division goals to his name prior to his £32 million departure from Villarreal.
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Victor Osimhen and Ivan Toney are firmly on the Stamford Bridge radar; whether either move in the January window remains in doubt while both could well find themselves targeted by clubs who can make a more appealing pitch in pure footballing terms. After all, the Blues are still 10th, 10 points off the top four even after a 3-2 win over Brighton, one all the more impressive given that they spent an hour down a man after captain Conor Gallagher's red card. If Chelsea are to scrabble up to the European places, the case could well be made that the much vaunted, truly elite center forward is the swing factor.
Jackson might not be that. What he is proving himself to be, however, is a player worth persevering with. That much was apparent at Stamford Bridge, where the 22-year-old delivered the assist for Levi Colwill to make it 2-0 and played the through ball onto which Mykhailo Mudryk ran before being brought to the ground for the penalty that Enzo Fernandez converted. With that, Chelsea had their first home league win since mid-August, breaking a run of near misses and moments that might have been at Stamford Bridge that is typical for teams in their formative weeks.
Mauricio Pochettino's side are that. So is his striker. Jackson can be infuriatingly raw, flying into an offside position when he has the burst to overtake all but the fleetest of defenders. Too often crosses can flash across the six-yard box without Jackson getting a substantial touch on them. His one effort of today's game saw Igor Julio get about as much of a touch on Mudryk's cross, perhaps doing enough to allow Jason Steele to get a glove on the ball.
Even after a relatively quiet afternoon in front of goal, Jackson is still on the right trajectory. For starters, six goals and an assist is nothing to be sniffed at 13 games into year one in England. Among players with more than 500 minutes in the Premier League this season, only Erling Haaland and Alexander Isak better the Chelsea striker's 0.66 non-penalty expected goals per 90 minutes. The Senegal international has the fourth most open play shots per 90 among strikers, ahead of the likes of Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Mohamed Salah and Heung-min Son.
A curious hat trick in a curious game against Tottenham crystallized the idea that Jackson is a particularly wasteful forward. The average Premier League striker converts 17.7 percent of his shots. Jackson is tracking at 18.2 percent.
All this in a team that remains a work in progress. Chelsea haven't even seen what any of their forwards can do with their one star with a capital s in the side, Christopher Nkunku still working his way back into contention after a major knee injury. The patterned moves and training ground interplay that bumps up the shot numbers of any striker is still to come under Pochettino but signs of progress are there. Jackson and Sterling seem to have a burgeoning understanding with the former doing a great trade as the wall off which his No. 7 could bounce passes on his way to goal.
Jackson's leaping power delivered the second Chelsea goal as he rose highest at the back post to flick a Gallagher corner back into the danger area, Levi Colwill scrabbling home before his former team mate Billy Gilmour could scrabble the ball off the line. Gallagher's red card just before the break meant Jackson ploughed a more lonely path in the second half but he did so effectively, an outlet who could win long balls and carry possession forward on the break.
Do performances like this portend to a future where Jackson is an undisputed member of the elite, the starting center forward of England's champions? Perhaps not, but given that even the most nailed on, can't miss signings tend to be a 50-50 gamble, is it not worth seeing what you have with the guy in the building?
One could say the same about Chelsea's goalkeeper. Sanchez had the feel of a placeholder when he arrived in a summer where his new employers had been eyeing up Gregor Kobel. The Spaniard will come up against few more testing assignments than the late stages of today's match. Clinging on to a lead that was halved by Joao Pedro's header at the start of 10 minutes of added time, the rain driving onto turf that looked far from steady, Brighton supporters offering him robust assurances that he won't be welcome back at his former home: Sanchez delivered a performance of real composure. Pascal Gross, Pedro and Evan Ferguson all saw shots well saved by the man who once patrolled the Amex goal and now seemed to revel in getting a rise out of the travelling fans.
As is their way this season, a young team contrived to make matters harder for themselves, Gallagher sent off for a clumsy tackle through the back of Gilmour, Moises Caicedo lucky not to follow him in the aftermath of a booking for his four lettered response to a free kick given against him. Colwill will learn from the mistake that was giving Facundo Buonanotte the space to cut onto his left foot and bend the ball into the far corner. The version of Brighton that hadn't seen so many of their best and brightest head to west London might well have punished Chelsea's worst moments.
Then again, if you are going to build an expensive but inexperienced squad you ought to be doing so in the knowledge that the worst thing you can do is rush to an assessment. Far from looking to upgrade, Chelsea should understand that they are still learning what they actually have on their hands a billion pounds later. After all, Jackson could be the game-changing striker they so covet.