Brighton’s deep defensive block
In the first half, Brighton limited Chelsea to just a few chances by defending deep, delaying and recovering well to prevent counters, covering the width of their backline, and even keeping the ball effectively.
Chelsea had a lot of possession in midfield where Fabregas and Bakayoko were both positioned high and between lines, leaving the back three and Kante with the ball against Hemed and pressure forward from Propper and Izquerdo on Chelsea’s right—to pressure Fabregas and Azpilicueta.
This left a great amount of space for Rudiger to advance with the ball, time on the ball to look up, and the possibility to play long switches to Moses or behind the defence. He almost found one run by Fabregas behind the defence, but Chelsea didn’t have a great deal of this kind of movement behind in the first half—in part thanks to Brighton’s backline being deep to not concede much space and requiring passes to be played with precision.
The lack of movement behind was even more apparent when Fabregas dropped for the ball on the right, where his passes forward would often be aimed at Bakayoko between lines.
Chelsea’s attempted passes between lines led to a number of errors, either from Brighton’s backline winning the ball through pressure or mistimed first-time flicks. This was a continuous problem in the first half, although when they were successful at finding a man between lines, they could cause problems by either shooting or opening space on the outside for the wing-back—as Brighton’s backline would narrow towards the ball.
Azpilicueta got into his position to play the ball into the box, or forward, on a few occasions, but they turned out to be almost always moments when Morata wasn’t in position to attack the ball in the box—and when Morata was in position, the possibility was blocked by Propper or Izquerdo pressuring Azpilicueta.
Brighton’s play with the ball was another factor in disturbing Chelsea’s possession game. When the visitors won the ball deep they could often keep it in their half for long enough to prevent Chelsea from sustaining a high press. Chelsea would instead consistently drop back into their defensive shape.
When Chelsea were able to apply enough pressure on the ball from their defensive block, making passes back inside too risky, Brighton would play long down the wings and into the corner. Although they were unable to successfully keep the ball during most of these passes, they could press around the ball or the resulting numerous throw-ins. The continuous stopping and restarting of the game prevented Chelsea from gaining desired momentum with the ball, forcing them to continuously reposition themselves (open block for possession, closed block for defending), while rarely being able to find Brighton with an unorganised defensive block.
Furthermore, they prevented Chelsea from causing them problems from counter attacks in the first half, as their central midfielders were quick to react and delay the man on the ball (often Hazard) and also cover wide early to prevent switches to the wing-backs to continue momentum of the attacks—leading to Chelsea always holding the ball for long periods and allowing Brighton to get back into defensive organisation.
Chelsea’s second half improvement
Chelsea got off to a quick start in the second half, taking the lead within a minute of the kick-off.
Brighton did well in denying space to Azpilicueta, but at times Chelsea were still able to free him to play his crosses by pushing Moses high (Izquerdo dropping deep to Brighton’s backline to cover him) and quickly switching from left to right to open space on the outside of Propper. And this was the case for the goal—and unlike in the first-half, Morata was now in position to finish.
Alonso initially received the ball deeper on the left, drawing pressure towards him, before playing the inside diagonal pass around the corner to Morata on the backline. Here, Chelsea were able to keep the ball between the lines (Brighton’s backline narrowing towards the ball and Izquerdo deep on the far side to cover Moses, who had pushed high), before quickly switching the ball along their midfielders to find Azpilicueta to play the ball into the box.
Within just one second-half minute, Chelsea found success in multiple phases of play where none could be found in 45 first-half minutes:
- successfully drawing Brighton to one side before quickly switching into the space on the other
- success with passes between lines
- both Azpilicueta and Morata ready for the pass into the box for Morata to finish
Now that Chelsea were ahead, they began to play with more speed and thus create more problems. Now when Fabregas dropping deep to receive the ball, he would have runners behind the defence to find—for example: Bakayoko running behind and laying-off the ball for Hazard to have a shot on the edge of the box. Chelsea began to sustain attacks in the final third, with Brighton giving away corners and free kicks and unable to clear the ball.
As Chelsea continued to have a number of corners, it was only going to be a matter of time before they scored from one. Chelsea missed opportunities to score from set pieces in the first half, but with the power of Morata, Alonso, Rudiger, Cahill, and Bakayoko in the air to attack Fabregas’ delivery, they can cause problems for any side they face.
Alonso’s goal killed the game, giving Chelsea a two goal advantage, before Chelsea had a number of opportunities to extend their lead further. Killing the game early in the second half was important to deny Brighton the opportunity to stay in the game and the possibility to equalise late in the game. March and Knockaert both created problems later on by moving inside from the right to deliver quality far-post crosses, as well as chances from two free kicks, which would’ve caused Chelsea real problems had they not found the all-important second goal.
Chelsea were unable to find momentum and successful forward passes in the first half, where Brighton’s deep defending, attacks up the wings, ability to hold the ball, and success in forcing the ball out of play disturbed Chelsea’s possession. Chelsea’s quick start to the second half allowed Azpilicueta and Morata to score their typical goal, before the second goal killed the game.