Chelsea Sweep Brighton Aside on Boxing Day

The second half of the Premier League season kicked off with the Boxing Day fixtures, which featured Chelsea hosting Brighton at Stamford Bridge. It was only the 9th time these teams have ever met. The Seagulls’s only victory over The Blues came in their first ever meeting way back in 1933. More recent form also points towards a comfortable home victory - The Blues have won their previous 5 Premier League home matches and are also unbeaten in their previous 12 Boxing Day matches.

Antonio Conte made 3 changes from Saturday’s draw at Everton. He replaced the unwell Andreas Christensen with Gary Cahill in defence, while both Willian and Pedro returned to the bench to make way for Alvaro Morata, who was reinstalled up front after his suspension and the defence unlocking skills of Cesc Fabregas.

Chris Hughton also adjusted his starting XI from his side that finally won their first league match in 8 attempts. The talented Anthony Knockaert, regular goal assist Pascal Gross and man of the match from the win over Watford Connor Goldson were all moved to the bench as Shane Duffy returned in defence after his suspension. These changes all pointed to a disciplined, more focused on containment line up who would’ve been hoping to inflict a repeat of what Sam Allardyce’s Everton side were able to do to them.

And so it was, as the home side seemed to play into Brighton’s hands early on and it turned into another very frustrating first half for Chelsea at The Bridge. A distinct lack of forward pressing from the 3-5-2 formation allowed a very well organised and high in number Brighton defence smother most of The Blues possession in and around their penalty box.

However, their overall dominance and the persistence of Alonso, Moses, Hazard, Bakayoko and in particular Fabregas meant that the home side still created a handful of opportunities but Hazard could not get his long range shot on target, Moses could not convert from close range and the same fate befell Bakayoko when he was only 4 yards out right in front of the goal.

Conte left it til half time to make his adjustments and he certainly sent his side out with a lot more ambition. Both wing backs and Bakayoko pressed much further forward and it paid dividends after just 52 seconds. A delicious ball forward from Cesar Azpilicueta was headed in by a stooping Morata. Suddenly the pressure lifted from The Blues and, except for a few fleeting moments, they looked capable of extending their lead at will.

Alonso had a free kick well saved and then had a glancing header pushed over and he looked very threatening. So, on the hour mark, it came as no surprise when a glancing header by Alonso from another Fabregas corner doubled the lead. Bakayoko, Morata and in particular Hazard could have added more goals and the match looked completely over as a contest. So much so that Conte was able to give early finishes to key players Hazard, Morata and N’Golo Kante. Meanwhile, Hughton needed to bring on the likes of Knockaert, Gross and Glen Murray in an attempt to instigate a fight back but even they could not prevent a fourth consecutive away league game in which The Seagulls have not scored.

The previous match at Goodison Park had highlighted Chelsea’s need to play with a true striker in the centre to be the main target / focal point for all the build up play. The first half of this match showed that the striker needs much closer support and better quality balls into him from his teammates. The more the team press forward, the deeper positions the striker can take. This in turn allows his support to press further up the field and occupy more of the opponents defenders.

But the Chelsea manager will be very pleased overall. His players made the adjustments and showed fantastic attitude in the second half. It was a match where all 3 points could’ve been missed but with the gritty determination on display the match became a comfortable win in the end.

The victory extends The Blues current league run to only 1 defeat in 12 matches, of which they have now won 9 and with Manchester United dropping points against Burnley on Boxing Day again, Conte’s side are closing in on second place in the league.

Written by Jon Ellis, Chelsea FC home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on twitter: @ClitheroeBlue

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