Fresh off of their disappointing draw away to Everton, Chelsea set out with an intention of sending Brighton packing. The win put them just a point behind a Manchester United side that rescued a late point at home to Burnley. Morata was recalled to the starting line up whilst Captain Gary Cahill replaced Andreas Christensen in the backline. The win was a great festive boost for the Chelsea fans who’d felt robbed after the Everton draw. Eden Hazard, Alvaro Morata & Cesar Azpilicueta were all the stand out stars during the game.
Chelsea’s high line
Chelsea’s back 5 were well drilled as Azpilicueta was vocal throughout, commanding the defence to push up on his call. They were organised & pushed up quickly to act upon the trigger of a backwards pass from Brighton being a cue to move up to the half way line. This saw Brighton struggle to create passing triangles as Chelsea’s back line had essentially ‘swallowed up the space’ which in turn let Kante & Bakayoko intercept passes easier due to Chelsea having the spatial superiority. Chelsea forced an increasing number of turnovers in their half & as a result Brighton ditched build up play completely in favour of a long ball approach (which also ended up being unsuccessful).
Wingbacks stay aggressive
Marcos Alonso & Victor Moses stayed high & wide whilst Chelsea were in possession. In doing so they caused Brighton’s back 4 to spread horizontally which led to Eden Hazard being able to navigate the half spaces with ease. Chris Houghton saw this struggle early enough to tell his side to revert to a back 5 with Solly March filling in at RWB until the end of the half. However, this move reduced the visitors’ threat from wide areas as they focused their efforts into central play; this was a pressing trap for the likes of Kante to intercept the repetitive direct clearance to Tomer Hemed. Brighton’s deep block was drawn out wider which allowed Azpilicueta to perform his usual half-space cross to Alvaro Morata who scored another headed goal. His aerial presence has proven to be crucial when Chelsea face teams that sit deep.
Kante – Bakayoko’s partnership
Admittedly the line ups of any coach are 50% opponent-dependent. On the other hand, Antonio Conte has preferred the double pivot of both these Frenchmen to secure his midfield. Kante is a more horizontally oriented whilst Bakyoko movements are more vertical. Both can hold their own defensively and their main job is to play as direct but as sensibly as possible. This season Kante has been developed by Conte to be more of a sitting destroyer to protect against counter attacks whilst Bakayoko has a role very similar to Fellaini at United, win the ball back and offload it then try to overload the box. Although both of these have been positive tweaks by Conte Chelsea could benefit from a goal scoring midfielder that’s better in the air than Bakayoko such as Milinkovic-Savic from Lazio. It will be up to Conte if he would sacrifice a bit more defensive solidarity for a bit more attacking threat.
This win gives Chelsea a real incentive to try and knock United out of 2nd place as the Red Devils are struggling for consistent performances. Furthermore the teams below them such as Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Arsenal have their own internal issues to deal with before they too can cause any real threat to the top 3. In comparison to their rivals Chelsea are yet to have a long list of injuries that derails their form, this means Conte only really has to battle fatigue to keep his starting line up as strong as possible. With 3 games next month all coming against Arsenal, the big games are coming thick and fast for the West London club.