On a Boxing Day that saw Manchester United surprisingly held at home by Burnley, Chelsea did the business against Chris Hughton’s Brighton to narrow the gap between themselves and the Red Devils in second place to just a single point.
Chelsea came into the game on Boxing day with a point to having failed to convert any of their 25 chances on goal vs Everton in a disappointing goalless draw at Goodison last week. The Blues had won 4 out of their last 6 in all competitions and manager Antonio Conte has urged his team on numerous occasions to improve the consistency of their performances if they are to secure a place in next season’s Champions League after admitting that the Premier League title is out of reach.
Chelsea made 3 changes from the team which faced Everton, as Gary Cahill replaced the jaded Andreas Christensen, Cesc Fabregas was preferred over Willian and Alvaro Morata returned to the team from suspension in place of Pedro. The first half of the game saw little action as the sides went into the break at 0-0. The creativity of play between players was evident as Eden Hazard linked with Alvaro Morata on numerous occasions to cause trouble though a lack of clear-cut chances meant supporters had hardly been handed a late Christmas gift in the opening 45.
Chelsea’s struggle to produce goals in the first half was picked up on by Conte post-match, who suggested the opposition’s timid approach was a factor.
“In the first half we had the right chances to score but didn’t take them. For this reason it becomes difficult because you’re opponent stays with 10 players behind the ball.”
It was arguably the inclusion of Cesc Fabregas in the side that played dividends in the end though as Chelsea managed to string a substantial 696 passes together over the course of 90 minutes which was over double Brighton’s tally whose stand-off approach to the game backfired. Chris Hughton suffered his 9th loss of the season as Brighton manager here though his defensive stance was of course understandable in a fixture at the Bridge.
The breakthrough came straight after the break as Cesar Azpilicueta, who hardly put a foot wrong all afternoon, floated a long range pass on to the head of Alvaro Morata who put away his 10th goal of the season. A common combo so far this season, this was the sixth time Azpilicueta has assisted his Spanish compatriot in the league this term. The chances didn’t stop there either, as Marcos Alonso produced a rally of efforts at Brighton’s goal before finally being rewarded with a headed strike from a wonderful corner kick routine.
The performance of the hosts were unquestionably superior following Conte’s half-time words.
“In the second half we settled very well and created many chances. It was a good performance with good intensity.
Cesc Fabregas was the stand-out performer for Chelsea, producing 108 passes, 7 of which were ‘key passes’ to his teammates further up the field. The Spaniard’s role in a three man midfield allows him time and the license to search for other attacking players such as Eden Hazard, Alvaro Morata and the wing backs in behind opposition defences; something that is crucial against teams that come to defend at Stamford Bridge. In his post match interview Antonio Conte flagged how luck has not been in the favour of the Champions as of late, comparing his team’s performance to the game against Everton.
“It’s the same performance against Everton – against Everton we showed 25 times we had shots on goal but today we scored twice.”
“We are in a good moment of form and just continue this way.”
As January approaches Antonio Conte and his team will look to continue as they wish to go on off the back of this performance by adding new players to his squad to boost chances of potential Cup and Champions League successes in the latter stages of the season. With Manchester City far ahead in the Premier League, there is no doubt that the European trophy is the one competition that could still allow 2017/18 to be considered a successful campaign.