It was Brighton & Hove Albion versus Chelsea in the early kick-off in the Premier League. Both teams were a little bit goal shy, Chelsea in the last few games, Brighton all season. And both were looking to change that state of affairs in this match today.

Chelsea had recorded five straight draws in all competitions since the start of 2018, three of them goalless. They did manage to beat Norwich City on penalties in their last game, but Alvaro Morata and Pedro both picked up suspensions.

Brighton actually scored more goals in their three games in January (four goals), than Chelsea had in their five games (three goals). The odds weren’t necessarily in Brighton’s favour this fixture, but they had home advantage, and they definitely had the quality to give Chelsea a game. […]

Chelsea were in turmoil, apparently. The players were tired, strikers misfiring, technical directors quitting. Rumours were swirling that another popular title-winning manager would leave soon. Andy Carroll was threatening to sign on a permanent transfer.

And three consecutive goalless draws for the first time in club history. It wasn’t a bad run of results really; Chelsea had stayed in two cup competitions, and gained a point under difficult circumstances in the league. But still, in turmoil by all accounts.

Well… these things happen, and successful clubs find solutions. And Chelsea’s FA Cup replay vs Norwich City was an opportunity to start implementing those solutions.

Norwich City were 13th in the EFL Championship. They’d only played one game since their draw with Chelsea: they beat Bristol City away 1 – 0, which was a pretty decent result considering Bristol were thirteen points ahead of them before their game. […]

After their exertions against Arsenal in the Carabao Cup midweek, Chelsea made a quick return to Premier League football. Their opponents this weekend: eighth-placed Leicester City FC.

Leicester were in relatively decent form; they’d won four and drawn one of their eight league games since the start of December. Their pace and counterattacking style tended to work well against teams at the top end of the league table: the one draw in that run of results was a 2 – 2 vs Manchester United. They also drew 1 – 1 with Manchester City in the league cup, before getting knocked out on penalties.

Chelsea were five places and sixteen points ahead of their visitors overall, but they weren’t that much better in terms of recent form. The London club had five wins and two draws since December; they were only four points ahead of Leicester City in that period of time. […]

Back to the bridge now for the fourth instalment of the Chelsea-Arsenal derby this season. The occasion this time, the first leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final.

Bristol City played well in the other semi-final, but failed to upset Manchester City at the Etihad. If there was going to be a surprise at Stamford Bridge, it would be one of the teams actually winning the game – every time Chelsea and Arsenal have met this season, once in the Community Shield (1 – 1), twice in the league (0 – 0 & 2 – 2), it’s ended up a draw.

Another weird Chelsea-Arsenal 2017/18 fact – it’s been a pretty good fixture for full backs. Four of the six goals in their games so far this season were scored by full backs: Victor Moses, Sead Kolasinac, Marcos Alonso and Hector Bellerin. […]

Chelsea were in Norfolk county for their FA Cup third round game v Norwich City FC. Norwich were in thirteenth place in the Championship with twenty-two games played, just two points behind “Old Farm” rivals Ipswich Town in twelfth.

Chelsea were a full thirty places ahead of their hosts, third in the premier league, a point behind Manchester United and two ahead of Liverpool FC.

Norwich and Chelsea had last met in the premier league, back in 2015/16, before Norwich were relegated to the EFL Championship. The Blues beat the Canaries 1 – 0 at home and 2 – 1 away that season. Diego Costa scored the winning goal both games, while Chelsea prospect Kenedy recorded a memorable strike the first minute of the away game. Nathan Redmond scored Norwich’s only goal of the two fixtures.

Norwich midfielders Marco Stiepermann and Harrison Reed both missed this game through injury. Chelsea’s Eden Hazard was also unavailable, with a minor injury from their midweek match at the Emirates.

There was some good news though: David Luiz started for Chelsea after two months out with a knee injury. Charly Musonda had also recovered from a groin injury, and was on the bench today. […]

Arsenal were down in sixth place, seven points behind Chelsea in third, six points behind Liverpool in the last Champions League spot – this particular derby was a must win game for them.

The game started at a relatively moderate pace, and Chelsea had the better early chances. But after referee Anthony Taylor wrongly gave a free kick for a Lacazette dive off a Kante tackle, the Arsenal players seemed to gain confidence and started ripping into their visitors at pace.

Chelsea responded with their own counterattacks, and the game devolved into an attacking free-for-all, with both sides creating brilliant chances, and only failing to score in the first half due to the dazzling form of their goalkeepers. Or in Chelsea’s case, finishing so weak, it made you scratch your head. […]

The great thing about rotation, when it’s done properly, it gives players with a point to prove their long-awaited chance… to prove their point. All five goals were scored by Chelsea players that have spent more time on the bench this season than on the pitch – and they showed today they’re more than just backups.

And maybe it was the quality of the opposition, but Chelsea also showed vastly improved finishing compared with their previous games. They had a 42% conversion rate today versus 13% against Southampton, 0% v Everton and 25% v Brighton & Hove Albion. It helped to avoid shooting straight at the keeper maybe.

The most important stat though: Manchester United drew with Southampton after Romelu Lukaku was stretchered off injured, so Chelsea ended 2017 second in the league! Yeah it’s just halfway through and City are too far ahead, but it’s not bad for a transitional season. At least so far. Well done to Antonio Conte, the players and the board.

And Happy New Year everyone! […]

As expected, Antonio Conte started Eden Hazard in place of Morata, with Michy Batshuayi back on the bench as usual. Apart from the game against Huddersfield, whenever Chelsea have used Hazard as a striker this season they’ve been a bit ineffective in attack. It was the same today – lots of chances but no goals.

Everton crowded their penalty area, with only Calvert-Lewin up top. The effect was that Chelsea could easily get back possession whenever Everton tried to go forward, but they didn’t really counter-attack properly, even with speedy players like Hazard, Kante, Willian and Pedro in their side.

This meant Chelsea lost the offensive benefit of the large number of opposition turnovers they forced in their defensive area and in the middle of the park.

They made thirty (!) crosses in total this game – it was difficult to tell at what point they would realize the strategy wasn’t working. They tried 25 shots to Everton’s 5, and although they were 8 – 0 up on the home side in shots on target, only one stat counted at the end. […]

The game looked like it was going to extra time – but apparently nobody told Alvaro Morata, who just two minutes later, sadly ruined the Cherries’ comeback with a really, really inconvenient goal.

Well he might have scored it, but this goal was really all about Eden Hazard. He blazed into the box straight from the kick-off to receive a long cross from Davide Zappacosta.

Then duplicating Kenedy, having made himself the decoy Hazard back-heeled for Morata, who was steaming in behind him to whip it off Boruc and into the net. 2 – 1! It was the ultimate sucker punch, both the move specifically and the goal in the context of the match. […]

Back to West London now, after two road trips to West Ham and Huddersfield. Chelsea’s opponents today: Southampton FC, fresh off a 4 – 1 home defeat to Leicester City. The game before though, Southampton managed a creditable 1 – 1 draw v Arsenal, who were in seventh place. They would not be pushovers today, by any means.

Chelsea (and Antonio Conte) were in game two of a “small ball” experiment. Even though Alvaro Morata was unavailable v Huddersfield, Michy Batshuayi was left on the bench. Today, both Michy and Alvaro were ready to play, but Conte started the same small, mobile attacking three as the previous game: Willian on the left, Pedro on the right, Eden Hazard in the center.

Mauricio Pellegrino rotated in Wesley Hoedt and Manolo Gabbiadini for Virgil van Dijk and Charlie Austin. Gary Cahill replaced Antonio Rudiger, who’d played well against Huddersfield, but maybe could have done more to prevent their late goal. N’golo Kante and Tiemoue Bakayoko were the two midfielders in Chelsea’s 3-4-3 today, so Cesc Fabregas was on the bench second game in a row. […]