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Chelsea

‘Pedro steps up’ – Three things learnt from Everton 0-3 Chelsea

Jake Jackman

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This was billed as the most difficult match of Chelsea’s run-in and they passed the test with flying colours as they triumphed 3-0 at Goodison Park. It was the first time that the Toffees had lost at home since January and the manner of the defeat underlines the quality that the league leaders have.

After a scrappy first half, it was comfortable for Antonio Conte’s men. They delivered one of their best performances of the season when it really mattered and took a giant step closer to the Premier League title.

Here are three things that we learnt…

Chelsea are almost there

Given Everton’s recent form at home, many thought that they would drop points this weekend and open the door to Tottenham. However, that didn’t happen and the Blues have maintained their dominant position at the top of the league with only four matches left to play.

There were fears that the league leaders would choke under the pressure after defeats to Crystal Palace and Manchester United. Since those defeats, they have emerged stronger than ever and that underlines the winning mentality that has been coached into the players by Antonio Conte.

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Although they have yet to be named champions, it is difficult to see the Blues being caught now. They have to play Middlesbrough, Watford and Sunderland left to play at home and three wins will see them regain the league title.

Their only remaining away game is a trip to the Hawthorns and West Brom are not the team that they were during the first half of the campaign. It would take a remarkable drop in performance for the Blues to not pick up another nine points. If they remain focused, they will win the title.

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Brighton and Hove Albion

Brighton 0–4 Chelsea: Three talking points from the Amex Stadium

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Photo: Reuters

Chelsea secured their first Premier League win of 2018 as two goals inside the first six minutes helped see off Brighton and Hove Albion in a lively encounter at the Amex Stadium on Saturday.

Without a win in their last six matches – and without the services of the suspended Alvaro Morata and Pedro – the visitors went in front on three minutes when Eden Hazard found space in the penalty area to send a thunderous strike past Mat Ryan.

And Antonio Conte’s men struck again just moments later, with Willian lashing home after some wonderful one-touch build-up play from Hazard and Michy Batshuayi outside of the Brighton box.

Brighton responded courageously for the rest of the half though, with two penalty shouts being waved away – somewhat controversially – by referee Jon Moss either side of a superb Willy Caballero save from Tomer Hemed’s close-ranger header.

The hosts came out firing after the break too, with Davy Propper sending a header crashing off the woodwork, before Chelsea struck the post themselves when Willian’s free-kick was palmed by Ryan.

Despite Brighton’s endeavours it was the visitors who secured the three points late on, with the imperious Hazard grabbing his second of the afternoon before Victor Moses slotted home in the last minute.

The result sees Chelsea leapfrog Liverpool back into third place in the table – at least until Monday night – whilst Brighton remain in 16th, just two points clear of the relegation zone.

Relieved Chelsea return to winning ways in style

At the sixth time of asking, Chelsea have won a game in 2018.

The over-riding feeling may well be of relief for Antonio Conte and his team but on the day Chelsea didn’t play like a side devoid of confidence, playing some blistering football on their way to their win.

After scoring just one goal in their past four games they managed two in just six minutes, well and truly flying out of the blocks to shock the home team and earn a commanding early advantage before all of the supporters had taken their seats at the Amex.

The hosts simply couldn’t handle Chelsea’s counter-attacking play, with Eden Hazard in particular looking dangerous whenever he was on the ball, and Brighton struggled to keep him at arms’ length.

The Belgian was imperious, scoring twice, completing eight take-ons, creating three chances and generally just running the show, and Chelsea’s success this season – and their top-four challenge – will be largely determined by whether Hazard can continue in this vein of form.

It wasn’t all good news, mind.

At times they were defensively lacking, allowing Brighton too many clear sights of goal, and on another day – against a better attack – they might’ve been made to pay.

Yet, in the same manner, it could have been an even more flattering score-line in Chelsea’s favour on the day had it not been for a string of smart saves from Mat Ryan in the Brighton goal, and Chelsea will go into Wednesday’s Carabao Cup deciding leg against Arsenal in good spirits and with hope of progressing to the final next month.

Brighton draw another blank as Locadia lies in wait

Late on Friday evening, Brighton announced a new club-record signing for the second time in a matter of months as 24-year-old Dutch striker Jurgen Locadia made the move from PSV Eindhoven.

The former-PSV man has an excellent pedigree in front of goal, scoring nine times in 15 Eredivisie games this season, but he wouldn’t have been too impressed with his new team after six minutes.

At 2-0 down there was already a mountain to climb for Chris Hughton’s side, and with only one win in 12 Premier League games prior to kick-off – and considering that the Seagulls had failed to score on 12 separate occasions this season – it was always going to be a tough task for the promoted side.

And whilst that record extended to 13 score-less games out of 24 by the time the full-time whistle went, the final score at the Amex does little to paint a picture of how the match went.

Many would have expected another home capitulation, similar to their 5-1 defeat against Liverpool before Christmas, but that wasn’t to be the case this time around as from the moment Chelsea doubled the lead inside ten minutes Brighton were superb in taking the game to their opponents.

Willy Caballero was forced into an excellent reflex save on the hour mark to deny Tomer Hemed’s close-range header, Davy Propper saw a header bounce back off the crossbar and the excellent Ezequiel Schelotto saw a shot smothered as the Seagulls seemingly did everything but find the net.

Would Locadia’s presence have made a difference?

Looking at it, it probably would have done. There were times where Chelsea’s defence were at sixes and sevens, and the hosts created a constant stream of good chances.

But whilst Brighton ultimately have nothing to show for their dogged efforts it was a display that earnt deserved plaudits and offers a renewed sense of hope for the rest of the season.

With a good performance against the reigning champions behind them, and with a new signing raring to go, Brighton are well-equipped for a critical run of games to come next against Southampton, West Ham, Stoke City and Swansea City in their battle to avoid the drop.

Willian celebrates 50 not out with sumptuous strike

For a team where the likes of Eden Hazard, Alvaro Morata and Pedro consistently find themselves grabbing the headlines, it’s their Brazilian outlet Willian who is an ever-present in the Chelsea team.

Saturday lunchtime’s trip to Brighton signalled the 50th consecutive time that the 29-year-old has taken to the field in the Premier League, and whilst Chelsea have found it tough going since the beginning of 2018 Willian’s been impressing with four assists and three goals in his past five starts.

His latest instalment was arguably his best yet, too.

Out of nowhere Chelsea defied their recent woes with Willian, Michy Batshuayi and Eden Hazard producing some brilliant one-touch football on the edge of the Brighton penalty area before the Brazilian shifted the ball to one side and lashed past a helpless Mat Ryan.

It was the sort of move that wouldn’t have looked out of place in their title-winning exploits last season such was the quality and tempo of it, and it shocked the home fans in the Amex into silence.

With all of the talk of the past few days surrounding potential January moves for Andy Carroll and Peter Crouch – two players who can add a new and a far more direct dimension to Chelsea’s offensive play – both Willian and Hazard showed that there may not be a need to panic buy just yet.

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Chelsea

Chelsea 0-0 Leicester City: Three talking points from Stamford Bridge

Rob Meech

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Chelsea
Photo: Reuters

Chelsea remain winless in 2018 after Antonio Conte’s misfiring charges recorded their third successive goalless draw.

Despite having a numerical advantage for the final 20 minutes following Ben Chilwell’s red card, the Blues could not find a winning goal against a Leicester City side that enjoyed prolonged spells of dominance.

Chelsea have now played more than 270 minutes of football in all competitions without scoring and have dropped to fourth place in the Premier League table as a result of Liverpool’s victory over Manchester City. Leicester remain eighth and continue their good form since Claude Puel’s appointment as manager.

Here are three talking points…

Chelsea’s goal scoring problems are mounting

Much has been written about Alvaro Morata’s goalscoring drought, which extended to five matches after he failed to register a single effort in this clash, but Chelsea’s goalscoring issues go much deeper.

Since the 2-2 draw against Arsenal on January 3, the Blues have failed to find the back of the net. None of the top six clubs have scored fewer than Chelsea’s current tally of 41 Premier League goals for the season.

There is no doubt the burden has rested heavily on Morata and when he was in fine form during the first few months of the campaign, Chelsea were often rampant. But the Spaniard’s barren spell has coincided with a downturn in the Blues’ effectiveness.

The problem for Conte is he has little faith in back-up striker Michy Batshuayi. There is no other obvious candidate to act as the focal point, although the Italian has previously experimented with a false number nine.

Defensively, Chelsea are very solid, but that counts for little when they fail to score.

Leicester grab a point despite Chilwell’s red

It’s not often a player receives two yellow cards in a matter of minutes, but that’s exactly the fate that befell Leicester’s Ben Chilwell.

After being cautioned for a foul on Willian, the Leicester man then received a second booking only five minutes later for bringing down Victor Moses.

Both fouls were fairly innocuous and Chilwell’s dismissal disrupted the Foxes’ performance, which had threatened to claim all three points at Stamford Bridge.

Leicester boss Puel was critical of Mike Jones’ decision to send off Chilwell, which may have come under more scrutiny had Chelsea gone on to win the game.

As it was, the visitors held out for a point, which was the least they deserved. Jamie Vardy twice went close to breaking the deadlock and Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois had to be alert throughout.

This was definitely not a rearguard display – Leicester created numerous chances and were keen to take the game to their high-flying opponents.

Tiredness to blame – Conte

Chelsea boss Conte blamed tiredness for his side’s failure to win for the fourth game in a row. This fixture came just three days after their Carabao Cup semi-final first leg against Arsenal, amid a run of seven games in 21 days.

The Blues return to action again against Norwich City for an FA Cup third round replay on Wednesday night. In total, Chelsea will play eight games in January after playing nine in December.

There’s no doubt it is a punishing schedule, but Chelsea are not alone in that regard. A club with their squad depth should be able to cope. Conte has rotated his squad, particularly for the cup games, and is sure to field a much-changed side for the Norwich replay.

Of course, if the Blues were winning matches there would be no need to raise the fatigue element as an excuse.

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Champions League

Are Chelsea potential 2017/18 Champions League winners?

Rob Meech

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Antonio Conte will be looking to emulate his Italian counterpart Roberto di Matteo, by leading Chelsea to Champions League glory this season. The Blues’ champagne moment six years ago was the realisation of a dream Roman Abramovich had held since he gained ownership of the club in 2003.

Chelsea are the reigning Premier League champions, having claimed the title in Conte’s first campaign in charge. But the former Italy boss’s honeymoon period is now over, amid a run of mixed results and speculation of player unrest. Here, The Boot Room assesses Chelsea’s prospects of lifting the Champions League for a second time.

Performances so far

The Blues were in the same group as both Atletico Madrid and Roma – as well as minnows Qarabag – and they finished level on points with the Italian club at the top of the standings. The highlight was a 2-1 victory away to Atletico, courtesy of a stoppage-time winner from Michy Batshuayi. A routine double was completed over Qarabag, but it was their results against Roma that shaped the final standings.

Even though both clubs ended on 11 points to qualify for the last 16 and Chelsea had a vastly superior goal difference, the Blues could only follow up their 3-0 defeat in the Italian capital with a 3-3 draw at home. This proved costly, with Conte’s side finishing second and being drawn against Barcelona, which has significantly dented their chances of making it into the quarter-finals.

Squad strength

Chelsea captured the Premier League at a canter last season, thanks largely to the goals of Diego Costa and the brilliance of Eden Hazard. Despite the summer arrival of Alvaro Morata, Costa’s departure has been a big loss. Surprisingly, Nemanja Matic was permitted to join Manchester United, while David Luiz has fallen out of favour under Conte.

Antonio Rudiger, Danny Drinkwater and Tiemoue Bakayoko have added depth to the squad, while the rise to prominence of Andreas Christensen has been an unexpected bonus. Ross Barkley is the first of their signings in the January window and perhaps more will follow. Most important is proper competition for the misfiring Morata, with Chelsea currently lacking a cutting edge in tight games.

Manager

A three-time winner of Serie A with Juventus (to go alongside last season’s Premier League crown), Conte is without doubt a manager of immense repute. After Jose Mourinho’s reign had turned sour, the 48-year-old was the perfect successor. He revitalised Chelsea and turned them into champions after adopting a 3-4-3 formation that proved to be a masterstroke.

Conte has a unique style of management. His demonstrable shows of passion are loved by supporters, but his intensity has sparked rumours that he is not universally liked by his players. Costa fell foul of his wrath last summer, while Brazilian centre-back Luiz is the latest to be marginalised. Conte’s public clashes with his superiors over failed transfer targets have increased the tension.

Chances of winning

When Chelsea won the Champions League in 2012, they had to beat Barcelona over two legs in the semi-finals. If they want to lift the prestigious trophy again this year, it’s a feat they will need to repeat. Although the Blues are more than capable of competing with the very best in Europe, they would much rather have avoided opponents of Barcelona’s class at this stage.

Chelsea only have themselves to blame for not topping Group C, which would likely have given them a smoother passage to the last eight. Barcelona, the runaway La Liga leaders, are by no means unbeatable, but they will be the favourites to progress and Chelsea will need to be at their very best over both games to stop them.

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