By, Ugo Nwogwugwu
Tuesday 26th December, Stamford Bridge – Chelsea played Brighton in their Boxing Day league game. It was the London club’s eighth of nine games in an extremely busy December fixture list.
Their record in the previous seven games was pretty decent – four wins, two draws and one defeat – but their more recent opponents had tended to defend deep. Chelsea were finding it more and more difficult to break them down – the perfect example being their scoreless draw against Everton the match before this one.
Brighton had exceeded expectations this season, similar to the other two promoted teams. They were twelfth in the league, just a point behind Huddersfield in eleventh, and two points ahead of Southampton and Stoke City in the places behind them.
They’d won only one of their five games in December so far, but that win had come in their last game, v Watford FC. All the pundits had Chelsea as favourites for this game, but it wasn’t a foregone conclusion.
Andreas Christensen missed the game with an illness, and David Luiz and Charly Musonda were also unavailable through injury. Chelsea had top scorer Alvaro Morata back from suspension though – and they’d really missed him against Everton.
Brighton manager Chris Hughton had Shane Duffy back in the squad from his suspension, and he started in defence today ahead of Connor Goldson. Former Chelsea midfielder Steve Sidwell was out injured, and loan striker Izzy Brown was ineligible to play against his parent club.
Line-Ups & Ratings
Courtois 7.5, Moses 7.5, Rudiger 7.5, Cahill 7.5, Azpilicueta 8, Alonso 8.5, Bakayoko 7, Kante 8 (Drinkwater 6), Fabregas 7.5, Hazard 8.5 (Willian 6.5), Morata 8 (Batshuayi 6)
Subs Caballero, Ampadu, Zappacosta, Drinkwater, Willian, Pedro, Batshuayi
Ryan 7, Suttner 6.5, Duffy 6.5, Dunk 7, Schelotto 6.5, March 7 (Knockaert 7), Propper 6, Kayal 6 (Gros 6), Stephens 6.5, Izquierdo 6, Hemed 6 (Murray 6)
Subs Krul, Goldson, Bruno, Gros, Knockaert, Baldock, Murray
Chelsea were in a 3-5-2 today, with Gary Cahill, Antonio Rudiger and Cesar Azpilicueta in defence. N’golo Kante, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Cesc Fabregas were just ahead of them in midfield.
It wasn’t the most aggressive line-up but even taking that into account, they started this game pretty sluggishly. It was almost as if the players were recovering from a really heavy Christmas dinner.
Brighton set up in two defensive lines of four and five, with Tomer Hemed as the lone striker up top. They showed much more energy and desire than the home side in the first half, as well as a willingness to get forward in numbers when the opportunity presented itself.
For a midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko gets into a lot of good positions to score, and he had a great opening early on – but he wasn’t able to get the right contact to put his shot on target.
Victor Moses curled a cross in from the right wing, and the ball went all the way across to Rudiger at the far post. Rudiger headed the ball back to Bakayoko, but he side-footed it wide from just a few yards out.
Fabregas had a good chance in the box to shoot, but he appeared to overthink it and eventually passed backwards, leaving the home fans frustrated.
He made amends a few seconds later when he spotted a bending run from Moses. He put the perfect ball over the top for Moses to finish, but keeper Matt Ryan reacted to put his shot out for a corner.
By half time Chelsea had more possession and goal attempts, but nothing to show for it. Some of the players appeared to be playing within themselves – Antonio Conte would have been bitterly disappointed with his team’s performance.
He must have let them know about it during the break, because the application and quality of play in the second half was the polar opposite of the first. And less than a minute after the restart, Chelsea scored the first goal.
Chelsea had possession in midfield, and then Kante squared the ball to Azpilicueta. Cesar was out in space on the right, and the Brighton defenders should’ve guessed what was coming – in fact they probably did but Markus Suttner couldn’t get in quick enough to close him down. He curled a cross behind Lewis Dunk for Alvaro Morata, and the striker headed the ball past Ryan for 1 – 0.
Marcos Alonso almost made it two for Chelsea when he took a free kick some minutes later, but this time Ryan made it across goal to block the shot.
Hecho En Espana
As at the start of this game, Chelsea were third behind the two Manchester clubs for the most goals scored from set pieces this season. Brighton were at the other end of that scale defensively: they were second only to Leicester City in goals conceded from set pieces.
So there was a reasonable chance Chelsea would score from a dead ball situation this game, and right on the hour mark they did.
It was another goal made (and finished) in Spain. Fabregas swung a corner in from the left, and Alonso, unmarked at the near post, glanced it into the far corner for 2 – 0. There was really nothing the keeper could do nothing about this goal.
Chelsea almost caught Brighton on the fast break soon afterwards: Kante went streaming down the pitch before releasing Hazard to his left. Hazard dummied two defenders and whipped the ball past the goalkeeper, but Dunk was in position to clear it off the goal line.
They had another fantastic chance to make it three: Fabregas passed to Hazard on the edge of the box, and he let it run for Morata, who passed it back to him in the penalty area.
Hazard was closely covered by Suttner and Ryan though, so he held them off and dribbled on past goal, then back heeled to Bakayoko – who again put his shot wide from just a few yards out.
Brighton had a good chance from a set piece late in the game. Anthony Knockaert put a really good cross in, and Shane Duffy got to the ball ahead of Bakayoko, but he headed it just over the bar.
One Point From Second
It was a great second half performance from Chelsea. The result took them a point behind Manchester United, who could only manage a 2 – 2 draw with Burnley at Old Trafford.
By the end of the game Chelsea had twenty-five attempts on goal, eight on target – exactly the same as in their draw with Everton. The difference today though: two goals scored, versus zero last game.
It’s probably safe to say Antonio Conte’s small ball attacking line-up (Hazard as striker) is not the future for Chelsea, at least not the way it’s been played this season.
Tiemoue Bakayoko appears to have a knack for being in the right positions in the box to score. If he can get some finishing training in, work on his composure, he will score a few goals.
Final Score Chelsea 2 – 0 Brighton & Hove Albion
Thumbnail image courtesy of: The World’s Game
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