Brighton & Hove Albion fell to a 2-0 defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Boxing Day in West London. A quick-fire second half double from Alvaro Morata and Marcus Alonso was enough for the hosts to claim the three points from a game in which Chris Hughton’s men more then held their own for long spells. Chris Hughton made four changes for the visit to West London. Shane Duffy came back into central defence to partner Lewis Dunk – captain for the afternoon, as Connor Goldson dropped to the bench. Ezequiel Schelotto replaced Bruno at full-back, Jose Izquierdo came into the side for Anthony Knockaert and Beram Kayal made his second Premier League start of the season as the match-winner against Watford – Pascal Gross, dropped to the bench.
The first chance of the game went to the hosts as Hazard shot wide of Maty Ryan’s left-hand post, but the keeper had his angles well covered. Albion began by sitting deep and looking to release the duo of March and Izquierdo out wide and after 13 minutes the Seagulls fashioned an opportunity. Schelotto and March exchanged well down on the right-hand side, and the defender’s low cross was deflected and hacked away by Gary Cahill. Dale Stephens then played a super ball out to Markus Suttner on the left, and the Austrian’s great cross found Tomer Hemed in the middle. The striker’s header was crowded out before Davy Propper’s volley was blocked after more good work by Schelotto and March. The best chance of the game then went the way of the hosts shortly before the 20 minute mark when Antonio Rudiger headed Marcus Alonso’s cross back across goal and Tiemoue Bakayoko poked wide from close range. Ryan then saved well from Victor Moses at close range after the wide man had latched onto Cesc Fabregas’ cross-field pass before the Australian was quick off his line to claim a dangerous cross into the area from the left-hand side. The central midfield for the Seagulls continued to work hard as a collective, with both Stephens and Kayal looking strong in the tackle, and composed in possession at the same time. Ryan then held Fabregas’ shot from distance comfortably as the rain began to fall, and Bakayoko’s cynical foul on Schelotto as Albion looked to break was the last action of the half with the score goalless at the break. But just a minute after the restart Chelsea took the lead through Alvaro Morata when Azpilicueta crossed for his fellow Spaniard to head home at the front post past Ryan and into the bottom corner. Hazard then shot wide after an exchange with Bakayoko on the edge of the area and Kayal was brought down at the other end to see Suttner’s free-kick blocked – the defender’s cross back into the area was then volleyed at goal by Propper, but Courtois claimed. Stephens then picked up the game’s first yellow card for a trip on Morata, and Alonso bent a free-kick up and over the visiting wall – Ryan made a strong save to tip it away before he pushed over Alonso’s header from close range at the following set-piece. But the Spanish defender soon got his name on the scoresheet on the hour mark as he headed into the far bottom corner, meeting Fabregas’ corner at the front post to double the hosts’ advantage. March’s whipped cross was bundled away by Cahill at the front post with Hemed in close attendance, before Dunk made a fantastic clearance off the line at the other end after Hazard had beaten two men on the edge of the area and got a shot away. Kayal and Propper then combined to allow the former to fire over from the edge of the area, and the midfielder was then replaced by Pascal Gross as Albion made their first change of the afternoon. Chelsea introduced Willian for Hazard before Glenn Murray replaced Hemed and March was withdrawn for Anthony Knockaert and Morata left the field for Michy Batshuayi as both sides continued to make changes as the game entered the final 10 minutes. Danny Drinkwater then replaced N’Golo Kante before Knockaert flashed a dangerous ball across the front post but just beyond the reach of the on-rushing duo of Gross and Murray in the centre. Duffy headed a free-kick narrowly wide of the upright as the game entered three minutes of injury time and Izquierdo also fired over, but that was the last of the action for the afternoon with a trip to Newcastle United up next for the Seagulls on Saturday.
|Chelsea Subs;||Brighton Subs;|
|Willian —> Hazard (73)||Gross —> Kayal (73)|
|Batshuayi —> Morata (82)||Murray —> Hemed (80)|
|Drinkwater —> Kante (85)||Knockaert —> March (82)|
CFC - BHAFC; Morata (46), Alonso (60);
Att; 41,568 (3,000 Brighton)
Albion MOTM; Kayal