A trip to the Amex Stadium to face Brighton and Hove Albion on Sunday marked the start of the festive period for Chelsea, and on evidence, they’ve gotten off to a good start.
A 2-1 win over Brighton was perhaps made a bit more difficult than it needed to be, but in the end, Chelsea build off of their last Premier League win against Manchester City and recover from a disappointing draw away in the Europa League last Thursday.
Eden Hazard’s first goal since October provided the margin of victory after Pedro opened the scoring in the first half before Solly March pulled a goal back for Brighton in the second half to give Chelsea supporters a few queasy moments.
In truth, Chelsea dominated much of the match, and on the basis of the first half, you sensed there would be only one winner on the day.
Starting once again as the lead striker, flanked by Willian and Pedro, Hazard had the freedom to influence play however he wished.
And for the first half, Chelsea resembled the side that Maurizio Sarri would like them to be. Quick to press the opposition into limited passing options and then cutting out the passing lanes, Chelsea had Brighton pinned in their own half for large portions of the first half.
Just 17 minutes, Pedro scored the opener with much thanks to Hazard. To that point, Brighton had held a strong, organised shape and had Chelsea at arms’ length. But Hazard finally found a bit of space, shifting and darting with the ball beyond his defender, before drilling a diagonal pass across the face of goal for Pedro to simply tap into the empty net.
There were complaints of offside from Brighton players as Marcos Alonso was standing in an offside position as the ball passed him. Alonso never made an effort to play the ball, so the goal stood.
Hazard then got on the scoresheet himself a quarter of an hour later. This time, Chelsea’s press unsettled Leon Balogun whose loose pass was pounced upon by Willian. One touch later, Willian’s pass sent Hazard skittering clear on goal, and he calmly passed the ball into the net.
Despite their performance in the first half, Sarri will undoubtedly be unhappy with parts of the second half.
Chelsea are beginning to make a habit of playing well until around the hour mark. Then it seems as if the team become too comfortable, start to get complacent, and lose all sense of organization.
This time, Solly March was the benefactor when Chelsea’s defence found itself outnumbered, allowing Bernardo to head a ball across goal where March was waiting just outside the six-yard box to hook the ball past Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Brighton also felt as if Marcos Alonso should have been sent off when he pulled March to the ground before he could latch on to a through-ball from Yves Bissouma. Alonso was just shown a yellow for that offence, but he might consider himself lucky to have not been booked early for a couple similar fouls.
Brighton’s last flicker of hope for an equaliser came in injury time when a long cross found Lewis Dunk’s head, but Dunk misjudged his angles and headed the ball wide of the post.