Hazard runs the show for Chelsea

Chelsea forward Eden Hazard celebrating after his third-minute opener against Brighton yesterday. The Belgium international notched his 100th and 101st league goals with a brace in what was a virtuoso attacking performance.
Chelsea forward Eden Hazard celebrating after his third-minute opener against Brighton yesterday. The Belgium international notched his 100th and 101st league goals with a brace in what was a virtuoso attacking performance.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Belgian forward crosses the 100 league goal mark, with Morata's suspension a blessing in disguise

ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE

Brighton and Hove Albion 0 Chelsea 4

LONDON • There were times yesterday when the Premier League champions found their game anything but a stroll on the south coast.

Yet, in the end, their first league win of the year will be remembered most for the exquisitely incisive rat-a-tat of passes which earned Chelsea their 4-0 breathing space.

Manager Antonio Conte's hand had been forced by the midweek dismissals of Alvaro Morata and Pedro in the FA Cup replay with Norwich - which meant both were suspended for the Brighton trip.

As a result, the Italian had little option but to start with a front three led by Michy Batshuayi and flanked by Eden Hazard and Willian, but it turned out to be a gem in disguise.

There was something hypnotic about that exchange between the trio, a flurry of accurate touches fizzed first-time at breakneck speed while six nearby Brighton players were left dizzied by it all.

None came close to an interception, each Chelsea touch dropping them further off the pace, before Batshuayi eventually flicked Willian into space to rip a finish gloriously beyond the diving Mathew Ryan from the edge of the area.

"Good combinations, it was an important performance. We started very well and scored quickly," Conte told BBC Sport after the game.

"We started with a lot of worries for injuries and suspensions but the response of the team was incredible. I am very happy. Another clean sheet.

"Today was a really good performance. We moved the ball quickly, we tried to find the players between the lines, to have good combinations. I saw important things. Now we have to continue."

Chelsea's attack has been toothless over recent weeks, their centre-forwards - in particular Morata - enduring a mid-season crisis of confidence and their approach play too often running aground.

Those deficiencies had prompted the emergency calls querying the availability of Andy Carroll, Peter Crouch and Edin Dzeko.

But this was also a reminder of Chelsea at their devastating best, a team capable of slicing opponents apart on the counter and inspired by Hazard's every involvement.

The Belgian had already registered a goal, the 100th league goal of his career, by the time he joined the celebratory huddle conjured by Willian's fine finish.

His 101st was scored in the 77th minute, and even after 120 minutes of FA Cup football on Wednesday night, Chelsea were always likely to deliver more punishment before the end.

With Brighton legs weary, Victor Moses made it 4-0 and, after weeks of frustration, Chelsea could bask in the infliction of a thrashing.

With the win, the Blues extended their top-flight unbeaten run to eight games, their longest streak without a loss since March.

For Brighton, they have picked up just one win from their last 13 league games.

"It was a very difficult afternoon for us. The biggest disappointment is that 4-0 was not a true reflection of the game," Brighton manager Chris Hughton, whose side had two penalty appeals turned down, said.

THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE


ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE

YESTERDAY

Brighton 0 Chelsea 4

Burnley 0 Man United 1

Arsenal 4 Crystal Palace 1

Everton 1 West Brom 1

Leicester 2 Watford 0

Stoke 2 Huddersfield 0

West Ham 1 Bournemouth 1

Man City v Newcastle

Late kick-off

TODAY

Southampton v Tottenham Singtel TV Ch102 & StarHub Ch227, 11.55pm

TOMORROW

Swansea v Liverpool,  Ch102 & Ch227, Tuesday, 4am

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 21, 2018, with the headline 'Hazard runs the show for Chelsea'. Print Edition | Subscribe