Boxing Day has always been a day of joy for Chelsea. After a frustrating 0-0 against Everton, Chelsea were back in action and seeking home comforts against a plucky Brighton side. As ever, Chelsea made it difficult for themselves before breaking down the stubborn resistance of the Seagulls.
Here’s what we learned from a hard-fought 2-0 win.
#1 Creativity Controlled
By now everyone seems to agree that 3-5-2 is the formation of choice for this season, which results in both Willian and Pedro missing out. With no place to accommodate them, the onus lies on Hazard and Fabregas to provide the creative spark. At Goodison Fabregas did not start the match despite Chelsea playing a 3-4-3 with Hazard as the false 9. This led to an unusually labored buildup play and more passes going sideways than forward. With Morata available again, Antonio Conte reverted to his preferred 3-5-2 with both Hazard and Fabregas starting. Andreas Christensen was left out due to illness, which allowed Cahill to step into the centre of defence. Bakayoko and Kante played alongside Fabregas, which seemed overkill against Brighton at home. But then you realize that perhaps Conte is trying to play Bakayoko into form so he could be useful in a box-to-box marauder role later in the season. The setup looked enough to cause problems for the visitors. Or so we thought.
#2 The Hangover
You know it’s bad when N’Golo Kante starts misplacing simple passes. But that was the theme of the first half. Chelsea sleepwalked through the first 45 minutes, making mistakes, plodding along and generally looking like a team that had a little too much eggnog and Christmas cake. Brighton could not make the most of a lethargic home side’s weaknesses, so the game did not make for a compelling spectacle in the first half. If Chelsea carried on playing like this, another 0-0 was on the cards.
#3 The Hair Dryer Treatment
The Chelsea side that emerged from the tunnel after half-time looked like they’d been collectively dropped into a tub full of ice. Or had a fire lit under their arses. Or a combination of the two. Whatever it was that Conte said to them had the desired effect. Within a minute of the restart, Chelsea took the lead. A trademark Azpilicueta cross was swung into the box and Morata connected with it with enough power to take it past the Brighton ‘keeper’s fingertips. Finally, something to cheer about! Alonso nearly made it two with another astonishingly accurate freekick, but the ‘keeper somehow got to it. His header from a corner finally put the Blues 2-0 up and there was some breathing space. Hazard danced his way through the Brighton defence before his shot was cleared off the line. Chelsea were now creating loads of chances, but there still remained the small matter of converting them.
As against Everton, Chelsea failed to make their efforts on goal count. A return of just two goals from 762 or so chances across two games is just not good enough. Conte alluded to this after the game and if the powers-that-be were listening, they’d be looking for January reinforcements in the form of a striker and a midfielder, at the very least. The evidence was there for all to see. Morata is an excellent striker, but perhaps it’s time we brought in a goal-poacher, a fox in the box type to play alongside him. A goal-scoring midfielder would also be a welcome addition. Someone needs to take up the mantle from Frank Lampard in terms of scoring from midfield. Bakayoko keeps finding himself in goal-scoring positions but his shooting is just awful. A bit more work in the training ground is needed before he can be relied upon for goals.
#5 Upwardly Mobile
This win and Manchester United’s last gasp draw against Burnley leaves Chelsea just one point behind the red half of Manchester. With the title as good as gone, a second place finish is still very much within reach. If we do the right thing and reinforce the squad in January, it could provide the impetus to go further in the cup competitions and keep the top four challengers at arm’s length.
Chelsea’s last match of 2017 is at the Bridge where they entertain Stoke City on Saturday. Let’s hope for a win to end the year on a high note as we head into the January transfer window.