Chelsea sweep Brighton aside in second half after struggling to beat Seagulls' rear guard
After being frustrated by a resolute Brighton side in the opening 45 minutes, Eden Hazard lead the way as Chelsea moved through the gears and blew the visitors away.
The Belgian seemed to be everywhere in the second half, floating between the Brighton lines at will but it was Â£58m striker Alvaro Morata who opened the game up in the 46th minute.
The Spaniard’s run between Dunk and the returning Duffy caught the pair off guard and he got on the end of Azpilicueta’s cross for a simple header from close range to open the scoring.
Duffy was one of four changes to the side that beat Watford, with Schelotto, Izquierdo and Kayal coming into the side for Bruno, Knockaert and Gross respectively.
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte was clearly unhappy at half time after watching his side struggle to find a way through Hughton’s defensive shape. Kayal slotted in to pack the middle of the park and, with 10 men behind the ball at most times, the home side found it heavy going.
The best chance of the first half fell to Bakayoko in the 19th minute but the midfielder barely knew about it. A powerful cross from Fabregas was headed back across goal by Antonio Rudiger but he did so with such power that Bakayoko could only watch as the ball cannoned off of his foot and rolled narrowly wide of the post.
Not long after that Victor Moses got on the wrong side of Suttner to try and guide a lofted through-ball on target but Ryan stood strong to parry it wide of his near post.
Conte will have been looking for a response from his side as they came back out for the second half and that’s exactly what he got.
Morata’s header set the tempo for a dominant spell of pressure from Chelsea who looked like they could score at will and none more so than Eden Hazard. The mercurial winger floated around the pitch freely and seemed to always have space and time on the ball. In the 27 minutes from the opening goal to his substitution, the Belgian ran Brighton ragged every time he was in possession.
It was this spell of pressure that saw the home side make it 2-0 and all but wrap up the game as a contest.
Wingback Marcus Alonso came to the fore in this spell starting with a freekick in the 58th minute that looked for all the world it would find the top corner until Mat Ryan, at full stretch tipped it over. The Spaniard had a second attempt with a header from the resultant corner that forced Ryan to again tip the ball over the bar.
It would be third time lucky for Alonso as he connected with another corner moments later in almost identical fashion and found the bottom corner to make it 2-0 with half an hour to go.
Hughton will be disappointed to have seen his side concede two headers in less than 15 minutes but will take more heart from the way the visitors stood firm against a torrent of Chelsea attacks to steady the ship and ease the pressure.
With the game threatening to fizzle out, and Brighton introducing Murray, Knockaert and Gross, the visitors enjoyed a few chances to score without ever really testing Courtois in the Chelsea goal.
Murray almost diverted a whipped ball into the bottom corner only to be flagged offside while Knockaert had some joy running at the Chelsea defence. It was his cross that was a hair’s breadth away from being nodded in by Gross and the German then almost turned provider. His freekick, wide on the right in the 90th minute, found Duffy’s head but the Irishman could only divert the ball the wrong side of the post.
It would have been nothing more than a consolation but would at least have given the fans something to warm them on a cold Christmas trip to the capital.
Brighton will take heart from the first half discipline but, ultimately, be disappointed not to have made it more of a contest in the second and somewhat relieved to only concede two when Chelsea were flying.
Chelsea: Courtois; Azpilicueta, Cahill (c), Rudiger; Moses, Kante, Fabregas, Bakayoko, Alonso; Hazard, Morata
Subs: Caballero, Zappacosta, Ampadu, Drinkwater, Pedro, Willian, Batshuayi.
Brighton:Ryan; Schelotto, Duffy, Dunk, Suttner; March, Kayal, Stephens, Propper, Izquierdo; Hemed
Subs: Krul, Bruno, Goldson, Knockaert, Gross, Murray, Baldock