Chelsea got back to winning ways at Stamford Bridge and in the Premier League with a couple of new names on the scoresheet, but had to do it the hard way after going down to 10 men...
Chelsea certainly didn't have things all our own way against Brighton & Hove Albion on Sunday afternoon, but still put in an assured performance that meant our lead rarely looked in threat until the final few moments, despite being a man down for half the game.
A couple of Conor Gallagher corners gave us a healthy first-half lead. First Benoit Badiashile did well to keep one alive, allowing Enzo Fernandez to head in his first Premier League goal. Shortly afterwards it was a near carbon copy, Nicolas Jackson heading back into danger for Levi Colwill to net his first Chelsea goal.
Things got more complicated just before the break, though, when Facundo Buonanotte pulled one back for Brighton and then Gallagher was sent off after receiving a second booking.
Thankfully we stood strong even with 10 men, until Mykahilo Mudryk was dragged down in the box and Enzo dispatched the resulting penalty confidently to give us a deserved 3-1 victory.
Things did get nervy late on after Joao Pedro pulled one back from a corner, and VAR intervened to cancel out an incorrectly given Brighton penalty for a handball that wasn't, but we were able to hold strong for what felt like a massive three points by the final whistle.
Before kick-off, there was an opportunity to remember a true Chelsea legend, as Stamford Bridge rose to its feet for a minute’s applause in honour of former Blues captain and England manager Terry Venables, who passed away a week ago today.
When the action got under way, it was clear from the start that Chelsea had a plan to deal with Brighton’ fluid passing style, Enzo Fernandez and Conor Gallagher stepping up alongside the front three to pressure the Seagulls defence on the ball.
With both teams exchanging long spells of possession in the opening stages, and moving the ball around at an attractive tempo, there were signs this could be an enjoyable afternoon’s viewing at the Bridge. It was just missing some goal-mouth action, with the closest either team came being a succession of Chelsea corners on the right.
Taking control at the double
That situation didn’t last too long, as one of those set-pieces did provide the opening goal for the Blues inside the first 20 minutes. Another Gallagher corner from the right was kept alive by Benoit Badiashile, who did brilliantly to hook it back into danger over his shoulder, where Enzo was waiting to head in from close range for his first goal in the Premier League.
The Argentinian nearly had his second just moments later as we tightened the screw. Jackson’s strong run took him around the Brighton back line but, when his shot popped up invitingly follow Jason Steele’s low save, Enzo was just beaten to the rebound.
It was only a matter of time before this spell of pressure ended with the ball in the back of the net, and it arrived following another corner. This time Jackson headed it back towards the middle and Levi Colwill, who spent last season on loan at Brighton, arrived to head towards goal. It initially seemed to be cleared off the line, starting a scramble which ended with Axel Disasi hitting the side-netting, but the referee’s whistle blew to signal goal-line technology showed it had crossed the line from Colwill’s header before being cleared.
It was a muted celebration from the defender, out of respect for the club he enjoyed such a fine spell with in 2022/23, but he was soon mobbed by his current team-mates eager to congratulate Levi on his first goal for Chelsea.
Another twist before the break
Mykhailo Mudryk was inches away from extending our lead further with a lovely solo attempt, weaving his way clear of midfield and striding forward before unleashing a powerful low drive, which skimmed just wide of the left-hand post.
However, shortly before half-time Brighton managed to get one back, when Facundo Buonanotte was given space to cut in from the right and curled a shot around Robert Sanchez to make it 2-1.
It took a smart double-stop by Steele to prevent Jackson hitting straight back for Chelsea, but instead we were dealt a further blow in first-half stoppage time when Gallagher's sliding challenge on former Academy team-mate Billy Gilmour was adjudged to have been a foul, despite winning the ball, leaving the Blues skipper distraught as referee Craig Pawson showed him his second yellow card of the game, shortly followed by the red.
There was some early controversy at the start of the second half, when Jackson outmuscled Jan Paul van Hecke and raced away to round the goalkeeper, but before he could tap in the referee blew for a foul, suggesting Nicolas was too strong in his shoulder barge, leaving the striker furious.
Brighton boss Roberto De Zerbi tried to force the issue by making a quadruple substitution, but so far they hadn’t enjoyed much more control over possession than they had before we went down to 10 men. In addition, we were also starting to threaten on the counter, and one such slick move involving Sterling and Jackson gave us the chance to widen the margin again.
It ended with Jackson releasing Mudryk, who initially sped away from James Milner, before appearing to be dragged down as he prepared to shoot. The referee initially ignored the Chelsea appeals, but VAR intervened and eventually he did award the penalty. Enzo stepped up and confidently stroked the ball down the middle as Steele dived to his right, the shot nestling in the back of the net for the midfielder's second and our third of the day.
Brighton continued to push for a way back into the game and we dealt with it admirably, until they found a lifeline right at the start of 10 added minutes at the end. It came from a corner, flicked in by Joao Pedro at the near post. Having looked relatively comfortable with our two-goal lead, suddenly things were less secure and nearly became even less so when the referee awarded Brighton a penalty right at the death.
Colwill was furious and rightly so, as replays clearly showed the cross hit him in the face, not on the arm. Thankfully VAR intervened again, overruling the penalty decision and allowing us to see things out for a hard-earned win.
We don't have long to wait for our next Premier League fixture, and it is a big one. We travel to take on Manchester United away at 8.15pm on Wednesday 6 December, before visiting Everton in the same competition next Sunday 10 December, with kick-off at 2pm.
Chelsea (4-1-4-1): Sanchez; Disasi, Thiago Silva, Badiashile, Colwill; Caicedo; Sterling (Palmer 66), Gallagher (c), Enzo, Mudryk (Broja 81); Jackson (Maatsen (72)
Unused subs: Bergstrom, Petrovic, Gilchrist, Maatsen, Matos, Madueke, Washington
Scorers: Enzo 17, pen 65, Colwill 21
Booked: Gallagher 31, 45+1, Badiashile 52
Sent off: Gallagher 45+1
Brighton (4-2-3-1): Steele; Veltman, Van Hecke, Igor (Baker-Boaitey 84), Hinshelwood (Milner 57); Gilmour, Baleba (Gross 57); Adingra, Lallana (c) (Joao Pedro 57), Buonanotte (Mitoma 57); Ferguson
Unused subs: Verbruggen, Moder, Kavanagh, O’Mahony
Scorer: Buonanotte 43, Joao Pedro 90+2
Booked: Hinshelwood 45+6, Igor 58, Gilmour 59, Gross 64, Milner 64, Joao Pedro 90+13
Referee: Craig Pawson