Brighton took a different approach to Cardiff, as they allowed Chelsea to have a 3v1 at the base of their possession with time and space on the ball (David Luiz, Christensen, Jorginho vs. Andone), while the remainder of the team would drop deep to defend in numbers — as opposed to having one extra higher up and isolating Rüdiger/Christensen on the ball.
Immediately, the space, which David Luiz was allowed was used to attempt a long pass behind Brighton’s defence for Kanté running behind — Kanté has been able to provide that run consistently this season — along with Azpilicueta making an early run up the line for a long diagonal pass later on in the half.
Although Chelsea had time and space on the ball, Brighton dropping deep and rarely pushing up into midfield limited the possibility of long passes, and Chelsea would instead need to break them down through individual quality, quick combinations, and getting behind the backline on the wings to create crossing opportunities.
Hazard, Loftus-Cheek, Giroud and Kanté between lines in the first half allowed Chelsea quick combinations centrally, but in very tight spaces and always against multiple opponents. However, drawing Brighton in narrow into these central areas would open up spaces in wide areas to create 1v1s, or find one of the wingers attacking the box.
Chelsea took advantage of the former to score the first goal. Hudson-Odoi was able to consistently get past Knockaert in 1v1 situations and put the ball into the box — March was much more solid defensively to stop the ball, but he was forced off through injury on the half-hour mark. Hazard taking the ball forward into the box on the left would also create chances, either through his clipped crosses over the top to the far post, or finding Emerson overlapping with good timing to again create another opportunity to cross for Giroud at the near post or play a cutback to Hazard inside the box.
Brighton had a few chances to counter or win set pieces high up to create opportunities for themselves, predominantly due to Chelsea’s reaction to pressing high and with attacking players recovering back to the ball in deep areas. Brighton would usually use the width of the wingers and wide runs of Andone to initially break, before playing switches to the opposite wing. But both Hazard and Hudson-Odoi recovered their positions well, and would be back to support the full back — often managing to launch a counter the other way instead.
Chelsea kept the ball well and waited for openings in the second half. Jorginho had a lot of time and space on the ball (169 touces!), and by waiting for pressure to come to him (especially drawing Stephens forward) before playing the forward pass, he would open up spaces between lines. Two similar situations between Jorginho, Loftus-Cheek and Hazard would see Chelsea score two similar goals in quick success to take the game away from Brighton around the hour-mark.
Chelsea continued to keep the ball well and prevent Brighton from moving higher up for the majority of what remained of the game, up until the final few minutes when Brighton pressed high and recovered the ball in areas that allowed them open up and have the ball inside the Chelsea half. But the Blues defended well in numbers to maintain a clean sheet and see the game out.
xG map for Chelsea - Brighton pic.twitter.com/UgQUuB6Hey— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) April 3, 2019
Chelsea succeeded in solving a different problem in this match, where they had a lot of time and space on the ball in the middle, but would need to create against groups of opponents in a deep and organised defensive block. Unlike in some other matches this season, Chelsea didn’t give away many counter attacking and set piece opportunities to the opponent, and even managed to take the lead in the first half — aided by the injury of March.
The Blues continued to control the game in the second half and didn’t give away chances for Brighton to equalise, while continuing to create chances through possession. Two similar goals in quick succession killed the game early in the second half, which allowed Chelsea to see out the rest of the game comfortably.