The visitors defended resolutely, but ultimately were undone by their own mistakes, and the home side using the space afforded in wide areas aft er Brighton changed shape in the second half.
Frank Lampard made changes, with yet another formation change, this time to 4-2-3-1 seeing Barkley start alongside Jorginho in midfield, with Mount ahead of them. Pedro and Willian lined up wide either side of Abraham, whilst there was the welcome return of Andreas Christensen from injury in central defence alongside Tomori at the back. Brighton lined up in a 4-4-2 system, but it quickly became apparent that they were intent on setting out very defensively. Both full backs played narrow in an attempt to stop Willian and Pedro finding space inside, while their wingers retreated to form a back six, even before our own full backs had passed the halfway line. Combining this with Bissouma dropping back onto Jorginho in midfield, at times they resembled a 6-3-1 system when out of possession. This meant that space was at a premium, and although Chelsea took the imitative in the early knockings, it was difficult to get on the ball between the lines.
A free kick from the left flank provided our first real chance. Whipped in by Mason Mount, it just averted the head of Abraham, but the curl on the delivery took it all the way through before hitting the far post, and subsequently being cleared to safety.
When we had possession in our own half Brighton would try to close the space between their midfield and defence by bringing the back line up. They got caught out with this tactic when Pedro was put in over the top to go clear of the back line. He shot straight at Ryan in the Brighton goal though. The ball bounced back to him, but Webster blocked the follow up shot.
With the visitors defending deep, and their lack of attacking prowess rendering it difficult to catch them on the break, we inevitably ended up playing sideways, but were able to create chances from some good crosses into the box from wide areas. Alonso overlapped well and delivered a great ball, which found Barkley who’d made his way to the far post untracked, but Ryan superbly turned his inside of the foot volley around the post. From the other flank it was the full backs linking up just before half time as Azpilicueta crossed to Alonso, this time the recipient, who stretched to meet the cross full on the volley, but couldn’t keep his effort down.
At the break it increasingly looked like one goal might be enough to get the job done.
Brighton came out for the second half with a new shape after Gaetan Bong, initiating a switch to 3-5-2, had replaced Bissouma. In effect this was 5-3-2. Three centre backs now, but an attacking change of sorts, as a back six became a back five! It was a slightly surprising move given that this initially looked as if more space would be afforded to our full backs when they pressed forward than in the first period, but maybe Graham Potter wanted the extra midfielder to help his side on the ball more. The addition of a second striker (Bissouma had played deeper than Maupay throughout the first half) also meant that they were more of a threat when they mustered attacks.
It didn’t take long for the deadlock to be broken, but it had little to do with formation, and more to do with Brighton’s insistence on playing out from the back. In the first half Chelsea had pressed high on our opponents back line when they had goal kicks. Every time they still played it short, and to their credit played around the press well on occasions, but it never looked comfortable. At the start of the second half we pressed again, and as Webster received a square ball in his own box, his poor touch was pounced on by Mount who nicked in and was brought down as Webster tried to recover. A clear penalty. Who would take it though? Barkley had been on the field on Wednesday when we got a penalty, but Pedro usurped him to take it, perhaps suggesting that if he had been our designated taker, he no longer was. Pedro was usurped on this occasion as Jorginho stepped up, and with his trademark hop before making contact, tucked into the bottom corner. How would the visitors respond now?
The tactical change had taken into account the importance of getting out to our full backs, with Gross pulling wide from midfield to close Alonso when he had the ball, it didn’t work so well on the other flank though, and Azpilicueta was often left to Bong, which was fine when he was in position, but with Brighton’s only source of width now being the wing backs, if he was out of position our captain had a lot of space to play with.
For the most part the visitors still defended well, albeit Abraham nearly scored when they were caught at the back trying to play out again, He nipped in to intercept a Webster back pass, but Ryan was alert to smother the shot.
To their credit, Brighton came to life in an attacking sense inside the last twenty minutes. They found space in behind our midfield a couple of times, on one occasion Tomori had to come across to make a vital tackle in front of the west stand, from another this time down the left they forced a corner. This once again exposed our zonal marking system, as Burn towered above Alonso to head into the ground, and off the bar.
Lampard removed Barkley, bringing in Kovacic, and a tactically astute change saw Hudson-Odoi enter proceedings in place of Pedro. This worked well as Hudson-Odoi hugs the touchline, which stretched Brighton’s back line more, Pedro had increasingly been looking to come inside. As the visitors pushed for an equaliser, we were finally able to catch them in transition when they were out of shape defensively. With Gross out of position, Alonso was free to pick out Hudson-Odoi, who received it wide but cut in field making ground into the opposition half. He switched play to Willian who had space wide on the right as Bong was up field. Burn came across to cover as the Brazilian headed for the box, but only succeeded in deflecting his driven near post effort past Ryan. With thirteen minutes to play, that was all three points in the bag. Kovacic was also a good introduction, perhaps using the ball better than Barkley. Abraham played a one-two with him; the return pass from Kovacic sending Abraham clear, but again Ryan was in the way. Brighton’s star man for sure.
The visitors were spent, and Chelsea played out the remaining ten minutes under no threat to record our first home win under the new manager.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1) 2 (Jorginho 50 (pen) Willian 76)
Arrizabalaga; Azpilicueta ©, Christensen, Tomori, Alonso;
Jorginho, Barkley, (Kovacic 68); Willian, Mount, Pedro, (Hudson-Odoi 63);
Abraham, (Batshuayi 84).
Brighton and Hove Albion (4-4-2, 5-3-2 after HT) 0
Ryan; Montoya, Webster, Dunk, Burn;
Gross, Stephens, Mooy, (Connolly 65), Alzate;
Bissouma, (Bong 45), Maupay, (Murray 79).