A day of Spaniards combining and champagne being drunk is remembered by club historian Rick Glanvill ahead of the latest visit of Brighton...
When Chris Hughton’s Brighton arrived at the Bridge on Boxing Day 2017, it was definitely not with a view to distributing generous gifts. Their approach to the festive season was to defend deep and dense and break up play whenever possible.
As a spectacle it was not exactly the traditional blockbuster Christmas TV film, but up to half-time it was effective. In earlier days and with a different football culture wags on the terraces would have put the Blues’ inability to score down to ‘too much Christmas pud.’
Antonio Conte’s well-drilled side, though, were reigning Premier League champions, and nothing was going to stop them after the break – not even an extra mince pie. Christmas bubbly, they would show, had gone to their heads in the right way.
The breakthrough came from a duo whose delivery had become as reliable as the Two Ronnies were with one-liners. Playing as the right of three centre-backs, Cesar Azpilicueta ensured it was a Feliz Navidad for fellow Spaniard Alvaro Morata. When the striker, returning from suspension, made his darting run behind Seagulls defender Lewis Dunk, his compatriot picked him out with a superb cross – 1-0 to the Blues, and the sixth headed goal produced by the same player combination.
Brighton either resisted the temptation to come out and fight for an equaliser or felt too imposed upon to do so. In any case, the Londoners’ lead was soon doubled. Wing-back Marcos Alonso had already drawn a smart save from Mat Ryan with one of his testing free-kicks, before the Seagulls’ ’keeper saw his header from a Cesc Fabregas corner fly into the net. The Chelsea pair had actually attempted the same routine from the opposite corner moments earlier.
The Blues might easily have scored five, but clearly the spirit of goodwill was in the air as Conte’s men eased up to third in the table. The Italian raised a glass of champagne to toast the media in the post-match conference, and promised there would be more if his team beat Stoke the following Saturday. They duly did: 5-0.
Read: Chelsea's South American pioneer