Hazard the hero once again. A ruthless performance from Chelsea’s diminutive Belgian saw Chelsea run out 4-0 winners away to Brighton. Hazard scored twice, and linked up well with Willian and Batshuayi for another. He is an unbelievable talent. But his ability to lift the tempo is the difference between the plodding attack of the past five matches and the cut throat play of today.
The match was not without peril. Chelsea saw two clear penalty shouts against them waved away, some small retribution for midweek, then had a penalty of their own turned down by Jon Moss. The Seagulls created some quality chances. Davy Propper struck the post with a phenomenal header. While Caballero made two quality saves on Hemed and Schelotto. The Argentine deputized for an injured Thibaut Courtois.
Hazard the Hero, Chelsea Smash Brighton
The match started as well as possible for Chelsea, as the Blues raced to a two goal lead. Hazard slyly shifted the ball onto his right foot from a deflected cross, before roofing the ball after three minutes. Three minutes later, the Blues scored what will certainly be a goal of the month contender, if not goal of the year.
Thats an absolutely phenomenal team goal, real goal of the season contender by Willian; pic.twitter.com/CWhKzXRWp6
— – (@TheChelseaLewis) January 20, 2018
A stylish series of backheels saw Willian clean in on goal, before he smashed past Matt Ryan. Brighton recovered and were the better team on balance the rest of the half. The second half saw Chelsea begin to suffocate the play, before Hazard added a third. The Belgian coasted through the Brighton backline, before slotting home from 15 yards out.
Willian plays a perfectly-weighted ball to Hazard who breaks at pace then cuts across the box before executing a deft reverse finish to confuse the defense and keeper and score his second of the day. 0-3. #CFC pic.twitter.com/AAgnmTWhBV
— Chelsea GIFs (@ChelseaGIFs) January 20, 2018
That more or less sealed the game, before Moses added a fourth off of a phenomenal Musonda pass. The scoreline covers some of the cracks in Chelsea’s game at the moment, but they are creating chances again. If Hazard can keep up this torrid form, Chelsea fans will feel a lot better about both their top four chances and the match up against Barcelona next month.
The Return of the 3-4-3?
Chelsea shifted back to a 3-4-3 formation after playing almost exclusively 3-5-2 for the past six weeks. Willian has made a case that he deserves to be in the side every week. Another goal today, coupled with strong pressing and link up play, he is becoming a more reliable option. Hazard flanked Michy Batshuayi on the other side.
Batshuayi looked miles better than he has this season. His decision making in the final third is suspect, he far too often looks to take a speculative shot ahead of a smarter pass. But for the first time his link up play looked up to the level it needs to be. Unfortunately for him, it looks like he may be off to Seville on loan. Meanwhile, Chelsea look set to add Edin Dzeko and Emerson Palmieri.
The 3-4-3 allows Chelsea’s front three to press much higher up the pitch, dragging the midfield and back line into engagements in more advanced positions. The 3-4-3 is active, not reactive. Chelsea’s second and third goals are spun from winning the ball, and breaking efficiently. Adding that pace on the break back into play will help Chelsea recover from this slide.
Bakayoko, Barkley, Wingbacks
Bakayoko turned in another lack luster performance. The Frenchman was strong early and late, but continued to commit clumsy fouls and play sloppy passes. His ability to break up play and cover ground is excellent, but he must build on those if he is to be a regular contributor. Right now, he is often a scapegoat.
Ross Barkley will have to wait to make his competitive debut. The new signing played 70 minutes in a behind closed doors friendly against QPR this week, scoring twice and generally impressing. Given the amount of time he has missed due to injury, expect a gradual integration into the team.
Today saw both positives and negatives for the wingbacks. Marcos Alonso struggled for pace against Brighton’s right flank, a regular criticism of the Spaniard. With Chelsea’s above interest in Italian wingback Emerson Palmieri, Alonso might find himself on the bench if a January deal comes through. On the opposite flank, Victor Moses is finally starting to produce again. He had a quasi-assist (deflected cross), and his first goal in 14 months. WhoScored had him turning in a 7.87, his highest rating of the season.
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