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