Slow starts are beginning to become a bit of a habit from Chelsea. A first half that lacked inspiration and energy gave way to a much sharper performance in the second half, allowing Chelsea to run out 2-0 winners over Brighton with goals from Alvaro Morata and Marcos Alonso.
Brighton had clearly paid attention to the Everton match last Saturday, and Chris Hughton’s side set out to defend deep and deny Chelsea spaces to attack, the fact that Chelsea started off so slowly in the first half must have had Hughton overjoyed with his side’s first-half performance.
It’s not like Chelsea didn’t create half-chances along the way. Just after the quarter-hour mark, Cesc Fabregas picked out Antonio Rudiger at the back post from a corner, and Rudiger’s downward header found the foot of Tiemoue Bakayoko to deflect wide.
Chelsea began to exploit space on the right side with Fabregas and Eden Hazard taking turns finding Victor Moses with long diagonal passes, but Moses failed to convert on two opportunities, first with a near post shot that was smothered by Mat Ryan and second with a tame header that was easily saved.
Antonio Conte wouldn’t have been happy with his side, and Chelsea came out for the second half looking like a completely different team.
It took them just seconds after the restart to open the scoring. Another trademark deep cross from Cesar Azpilicueta picked out the head of Alvaro Morata who once again found the back of the net. It was the sixth time the duo had combined for a goal this season.
That goal seemed to rouse Chelsea from their slumber. Fabregas, who started playing deeper to start the second half, raked a long ball forward for Bakayoko. Hazard collected Bakayoko’s lay off and fired just wide of Ryan’s goal.
The corner count kept rising, and just before the hour, Fabregas picked out Alonso at the near post, and Ryan was forced to punch Alonso’s glancing header over the bar.
On their 10th corner, Chelsea finally found the net for their second goal. Again, it was Fabregas finding Alonso. This time, Alonso found himself unmarked in the centre of the goal and nodded low and inside Ryan’s far post.
Chelsea finally found their rhythm, and it looked like it could be a matter of how many they would score. Lewis Dunk was forced to clear a shot from Hazard off the line after Chelsea broke from a Brighton corner and N’Golo Kante found Hazard in space on the left.
Hazard tormented the Brighton defence again moments later. After interchanging passes with Morata and Fabregas, Hazard broke into the Brighton penalty area before being closed down. Bakayoko collected Hazard’s pass and fired the ball wide across goal.
Brighton had two chances to test Chelsea’s nerve late in the game. Solly March picked out the substitute Glenn Murray at the back post, only for Thibault Courtois to save with his body. But the flag was up for offside anyway.
Just before the 90-minute mark, substitutes Anthony Knockaert and Pascal Gross combined for a late chance for Brighton to get a goal. Knockaert’s whipped cross was aimed at Gross who had escaped Chelsea’s marking, but he seemed to anticipate contact from Courtois that never came and failed to make contact.