Eden Hazard put in a man of the match performance as Chelsea bulldozed through Brighton & Hove Albion. Mathew Ryan collected the ball from his goal a whopping four times.
Coming in, Chelsea had a mini-crisis. Alvaro Morata and Pedro were unavailable after being sent off against Norwich in midweek FA Cup action. Antonio Conte’s lineup was further thinned by injuries to Gary Cahill, Thibaut Courtois, Danny Drinkwater, and Cesc Fabregas.
Tiemoue Bakayoko paired with N’Golo Kante. Michy Batshuayi was given a rare Premier League start.
For his part Chris Hughton decided to go with five at the back. Up front he preferred Solly March and Tomer Hemed over Glenn Murray.
Hazard tore apart Hughton’s script before the Seagulls boss could call “Action!” The Belgian had created two goals before the game could settle down. He drove a fierce shot past Ryan then exchanged intricate passes with Batshuayi and Willian with the Brazilian finishing. Six minutes in Brighton was two down.
Brighton didn’t fold. Ezequiel Schelotto kept bringing the game to Chelsea. Knowing an extra center back was there to protect him, the Italian right back attacked time and again, sending a slew of dangerous balls into the Chelsea eighteen.
The Blues absorbed the pressure and offered more of their own. Still, it needed 77 minutes for Hazard to add a third and pick up a personal brace. Victor Moses put the icing on the cake with added time looming, courtesy Charly Musonda’s sublime service.
Chelsea’s attack back on song
Prior to this game Chelsea had endured a run with one goal in four matches. Three were goalless draws. Thus Chelsea remains unbeaten in 12 games in all competitions. Its previous loss came to West Ham in early December. Flattery to deceive.
Poor finishing saw the Blues cede dominance in their Champions League group. Morata’s goal drought has held the side back. His deputies coring twice in the first six minutes against the Seagulls boosted confidence.
More important was how the goals came. Chelsea worked possession like they rarely do, especially without Cesc. Musonda’s assist would have made the injured Catalan proud. Momentum was needed entering the second leg of the League Cup semifinal against Arsenal.
Fringe players show their worth
Injuries and suspensions offered Michy Batshuayi and Willy Caballero consecutive starts for the first time this season. Batshuayi may not have gotten on the score sheet but it was a good performance. And Charly Musonda just put the game to bed.
Caballero is one of the biggest mysteries in goalkeeping history. Pep Guardiola preferred Joe Hart as Bravo’s deputy, letting the Argentine leave. Bravo proved hapless. Hart is on the bench at West Ham.
This performance displayed Caballero’s conflicted nature. Is he a good keeper or a liability? It felt like Chelsea had earned a clean sheet both despite and because of him. One minute he was failing to pick up corners, the next he was saving headers in the six-yard box. If it’s possible, he must have raised Conte’s blood pressure to new levels.