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NICK SZCZEPANIK'S PRESS VERDICT: CHELSEA

4 April 2019

Paul Hazlewood
Nick Szczepanik reviews the media's coverage of Tuesday's game,

As you might expect, mentions of Chris Hughton’s men were few and far between in reports of Albion’s 3-0 defeat at Chelsea. The Fleet Street focus was on a first Premier League start for Callum Hudson-Odoi rather than more Seagulls struggles.

“For the Chelsea fans, this was more like it,” Jim White wrote in the Daily Telegraph. “None of the dispiriting emptiness of the display at Cardiff last weekend. This was a performance of intelligence, fluency and control, rounded off with a surfeit of memorable goals. And for the regulars the reason seemed all too clear: at last their manager had selected the rising local hero Callum Hudson-Odoi.”

He added that “there was a worrying portent of what might happen were [Chelsea] not to translate such possession into goals, however, when Brighton’s Yves Bissouma skipped in from the right and laid the ball off for Davy Propper. But he couldn’t connect properly, allowing the Chelsea defence to clear. It did at least mean the Brighton fans could give a fine rendition of the Bissouma name sung to the tune of the tequila song.

“Just as the home crowd’s patience was threatening to run thin, Hudson-Odoi intervened. Brighton had deployed March to double up on him with the full-back Gaetan Bong. But after half an hour March hobbled off, replaced by Anthony Knockaert. And the Frenchman’s defensive industry was not on the level of his team-mate. Receiving a crossfield ball from Hazard, Hudson-Odoi skipped past Knockaert as if he were barely there and fizzed an invitation of a cross towards the near post, where Olivier Giroud arrived to stab the ball home.

“Hazard was in masterful form, taking control of the game just after half-time. Receiving the ball from Loftus-Cheek on the fringes of the Brighton area, he left Lewis Dunk stranded before sweeping the ball past Mathew Ryan.Like everything Hazard does, he made it look easy, made Chris Hughton’s carefully drilled back line look leaden-footed.”

After Chelsea’s third, White wrote that “the Brighton fans were left consoling themselves that at least they were off to Wembley. A repeat performance against Manchester City in Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final, however, and things could get embarrassing.”

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Others agreed that Dunk and company had not exactly stretched Chelsea for most of the match. Sami Mokbel in the Daily Mail, for example. “When Ruben Loftus-Cheek's majestic effort nestled past Mat Ryan to extend Chelea’s lead to three, Maurizio Sarri turned to his bench before puffing out his cheeks. 'Why can't it always be this easy?' the under-pressure manager was probably thinking.

“The need for victory was just as profound for Brighton and Chris Hughton. On 33 points going into the clash, the Seagulls are within touching distance of Premier League safety.

“Yet, for all of Chelsea's current troubles getting a result at Stamford Bridge remains far easier said than done.

“Not that Brighton appeared daunted by the task ahead. Of course, Chelsea dominated possession - but visiting goalkeeper Mat Ryan had very little to do during the opening 30 minutes.

“Had Solly March not hit the side netting with his effort in the 19th minutes then Sarri may have had to run for cover.

“Gradually, though, Chelsea - and Hudson-Odoi - turned the screw.”

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Warren Haughton of The Sun wrote that “Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi starred as Chelsea strolled past Brighton 3-0 at Stamford Bridge.”

But he pointed out that Albion had had their chances. “Hudson-Odoi, finally starting his first league game of the season, was a constant threat despite the visitors dropping deep and not allowing any space in behind them.

“But when Chris Hughton’s side ventured forward on the rare occasion, they caused Chelsea problems and should have taken the lead.

“Yves Bissouma danced past Cesar Azpilicueta on 30 minutes and his pull back was missed by Florin Andone, who took it off Shane Duffy’s toe just as he was about to fire home from close range.”

 

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Dominic Fifield also emphasised that Albion had given the hosts an easy ride in The Guardian. “This was Chelsea’s best display for some time, a performance which allied initial patience with ruthless quality after the interval, typified by two excellent goals around the hour-mark, to see them beyond an overly tentative Brighton team.

“The visitors may have had one eye on the FA Cup but are not yet safe. They ended well beaten while the home side, not used to winning so comfortably in the league of late, basked in some of their old self-assurance.”

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Emlyn Begley, on the BBC website, said that “there had been suggestions Hughton could make wholesale changes three days before his side's first FA Cup semi-final in 36 years, but he resisted the urge with only four switches from their defeat by relegation rivals Southampton. Brighton are not safe from drop yet, five points above the bottom three.

“The manager said before kick-off it was a chance for players to "stake a claim" for Wembley, but in truth nobody shone and they were deservedly beaten - although they did defend well in stages.

“They managed only one shot on target, a long-range effort from Bernardo, with fellow substitute Knockaert - on for the injured Solly March - shooting wide in injury time.

"’The quality can wear you down,’ said Hughton after the game.

"’For good periods we were very much in the game. Anthony Knockaert had our best chance of the game late on. It wasn't like we gave up, which is important. I can't fault what the players gave’."


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