A fast start from the Blues paved the way for a first Premier League victory of 2018 with Eden Hazard, Willian and Victor Moses all finding the net in style.
It took just six minutes on the South Coast for Chelsea to race into a two-goal lead and banish the January goalscoring blues. The first was a fine finish from Hazard, and the second a contender for the best goal we have scored this season, a sumptuous move between the front three finished off by Willian. It drew gasps from the capacity crowd.
Brighton posed regular problems with Willy Caballero, a replacement for the injured Thibaut Courtois, making one excellent stop in each half. The hosts also had two penalty appeals turned down, but the Blues stayed strong defensively to secure a sixth clean sheet in our last seven league games.
The afternoon was capped off by a stunning individual strike from Hazard, undoubtedly the game’s outstanding player, and then a first league goal since November 2016 for Moses late on. Substitute Charly Musonda’s superb pass from deep set it up.
Aside from a head injury to Andreas Christensen which forced him off early in the second half, it was the perfect way for us to return to winning ways in the league, and warm up for the second leg of our Carabao Cup semi-final at Arsenal on Wednesday evening.
Suspension and injury forced Antonio Conte to make a number of changes to his starting XI. Michy Batshuayi filled in for Alvaro Morata, and he was flanked by Willian and Hazard in a three-man frontline. At the other end of the pitch, an ankle knock picked up by Courtois in training meant Caballero retained his position between the posts, fresh from his critical contribution to the shoot-out win over Norwich. Courtois will be monitored in the next few days.
The Chelsea bench included youngsters Ethan Ampadu, Dujon Sterling and Musonda, as well as new signing Ross Barkley.
Brighton boss Chris Hughton also shuffled his pack, bringing in five fresh faces from their defeat at West Brom last weekend, and shifting to a more attacking 3-5-2 formation.
Before kick-off there was a minute’s applause for the late, great Cyrille Regis who sadly passed away this week. The former striker would have been impressed by the sharp shooting on display in the opening six minutes at a drizzly Amex Stadium.
Our first goal was simple in its execution. Moses was played in down the right, and watched on as his low cross took a slight touch off Dale Stephens into Hazard’s path. The Belgian created space for a shot and thrashed it past Mat Ryan from 10 yards out, marking his 100th career league goal in style. Sixty-four of those have come in a Chelsea shirt.
In the blink of an eye we doubled our lead with a move of the highest quality. It was all the front three’s making as they made light work of the tight space they had to operate in on the edge of the box. Willian found Hazard, who backheeled first time into Batshuayi’s path. He repeated the trick to the advancing Willian, and the no.22 fired unerringly into the right-hand corner of the net.
The clinical finishing and final-third confidence Conte has called for recently had returned in style. Brighton’s change in shape had left them more exposed than usual, but their attacking play threatened us throughout the first half.
Shortly after the quarter-hour mark, Caballero dived to get a crucial touch on Solly March’s dangerous cross, and ref Jon Moss deemed no penalty when Ezequiel Schelotto tumbled theatrically as his Argentinean compatriot closed him down. The same man wanted a spot-kick later in the half, after falling under pressure from Tiemoue Bakayoko, but again the ref ignored his appeals and instead booked him for dissent.
Caballero got caught under a Brighton corner but thankfully was not punished, and our keeper showcased his very best to keep out a close-range header from the unmarked Tomer Hemed on the half-hour.
His counterpart Ryan was kept busy by the Blues, too. He saved low from Bakayoko and Willian, and then higher up from Batshuayi after yet more mercurial work from Hazard, whose driving runs and twinkle toes were striking fear into the Brighton backline time and again.
Hazard almost set up Moses for a volleyed goal at the back post, and as the interval approached Batshuayi curled not far wide having spun his marker. Hazard was the next man to have a penalty appeal ignored in the final moments of what had been a thoroughly entertaining first half in Sussex.
The second half started with two scares, as first a clash of heads left Christensen requiring lengthy treatment, and then as the Dane was returning to the pitch Davy Propper headed Pascal Gross’s cross against the upright.
Christensen played on for a while but it was soon apparent he couldn’t continue and so David Luiz replaced him in the 58th minute.
The Brazilian’s first involvement was to stand over a free-kick that Willian struck superbly. It was met by an even better save from Ryan, who tipped the bending effort on to the post and away.
By the midway point of the second period the pace of the game had slowed a little, but you still felt Brighton were right in it, and it needed another good, spread-eagled stop from Caballero to deny the maurading Schelotto a goal from eight yards out.
With a quarter-of-an-hour to play, Davide Zappacosta replaced Marcos Alonso, and it wasn’t long after that we put the game to bed.
A loose Brighton touch in midfield gave Willian the chance to pick out the breaking Hazard on halfway. He carried the ball at speed, drifted inside with the Brighton defence in fearful retreat inside their box, bode his time and cut a cute finish back across goal, wrongfooting Ryan and a couple of blue-and-white shirted players in the process.
It had echoes of Arjen Robben’s brilliant individual goal against CSKA Moscow in Russia in 2004.
Musonda replaced Willian on 81 minutes and before the end the 21-year-old had made a significant contribution, exquisitely picking out the run of Moses with a raking pass. The Nigerian did the rest, bringing it under control and slotting home in front of the joyous travelling support. It topped off a fine day’s work for everyone of a Chelsea persuasion.
Chelsea (3-4-3): Caballero; Azpilicueta (c), Christensen (David Luiz 58), Rudiger; Moses, Bakayoko, Kante, Alonso (Zappacosta 75); Willian (Musonda 81), Batshuayi, Hazard.
Unused subs Eduardo, Sterling, Ampadu, Barkley.
Scorers Hazard 3, 77, Willian 6, Moses 89
Brighton (3-5-2): Ryan; Goldson, Duffy, Dunk (c); Schelotto, Propper, Stephens, March (Izquierdo 83), Suttner; Gross (Kayal 68), Hemed (Murray 68).
Unused Subs Krul, Hunemeier, Rosenior, Baldock.
Booked Schelotto 36, Duffy 57, Goldson 79
Referee Jon Moss